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Friday, 19 July 2024
Death toll of migrants off Syrian coast has risen to more than 71
Migrants risk death to escape conflicts and economic crises in their countries, hoping to reach Europe (Photo: anews)

A monitor group, Syrian and Lebanese sources said on Friday (Sep 23) that more bodies have been retrieved from the Syrian coast after a boat carrying migrants aiming for Europe sank, raising the death toll to more than 71.

A Syrian medical source told dpa that 17 bodies were found early Friday, among them women and children.

On Thursday (Sep 22), the state-run Syrian News Agency SANA said 34 people died after a migrant boat sank off Syria.

A source at the Syrian Transport Ministry said some survivors were also found who were taken to hospital in the Syrian coastal city of Tartus for treatment.

A Lebanese source in the port of Tripoli in northern Lebanon told dpa that the boat, which was carrying some 120-171 migrants from different nationalities including Lebanese and Syrians, had left Miniyeh near Tripoli on Tuesday (Sep 20) for the Greek coast.

"They were aiming to reach Europe ... People are desparate; They want to leave Lebanon because the living conditions are unbearable," Ahmad Tilawi, a relative of one of the boat victims, said from Tripoli.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, confirmed the death toll had reached 51 and said that the search and rescue operations were continuing and that the number was likely to increase.

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The boat capsized in Syrian territorial waters, opposite the island of Arwad off Tartus, the observatory said.

Lebanon's deteriorating economic situation has led many Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian refugees to try and reach Europe illegally, risking the perilous sea route in the hope of better conditions.

Perilous crossing

Wissam al-Talawi from the northern Akkar region was among the survivors and is being treated in hospital, his brother Ahmad told AFP.

But the corpses of Wissam's two daughters, aged five and nine, had been returned to Lebanon where they were buried early on Friday, Ahmad said. "They left two days ago," he added.

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"(My brother) couldn't afford his daily expenses, or the cost of enrolling his children in school," he added, saying Wissam's wife and two sons remain missing.

Last year Lebanon saw a spike in the number of migrants using its shores to attempt the perilous crossing in overcrowded boats to reach Europe.

Other relatives told AFP they had arrived at Syria's border to check on their relatives.

In April, the sinking of an overcrowded migrant boat pursued by the Lebanese navy off the northern coast of Tripoli killed dozens of people, sparking anger in the country.

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The circumstances of that incident were not entirely clear, with some on board claiming the navy rammed their vessel, while officials insisted the smugglers attempted reckless escape manoeuvres.

Many of the bodies were never recovered.

On September 13, Türkiye's coastguard announced the death of six migrants pushed back by Greek forces, including two babies, and rescued 73 people trying to reach Europe off the coast of the southwestern province of Muğla.

They had reportedly boarded from Tripoli in Lebanon in an attempt to reach Italy.

Most of the boats setting off from Lebanon head for European Union member Cyprus, an island 175 kilometres (110 miles) away to the west.

Source: anews