Syria: Migrant boat sinking sees at least 71 dead, search efforts continue

Syrian authorities have recovered the bodies of at least 71 people who were aboard a migrant boat that sank off its coast after sailing from Lebanon earlier this week, a Lebanese minister reported on Friday, as search efforts continued.

Ali Hamiye told Reuters 20 survivors were being treated in Syrian hospitals.

Lebanon has seen a spike in migration driven by a devastating financial meltdown that has plunged swathes of the population into poverty over the last three years. In addition to Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian refugees have been among those trying to leave the country by sea.

Syrian authorities began finding bodies off the coast of Tartus on Thursday afternoon. Its transport ministry has cited survivors saying the boat left from Lebanon’s northern Minyeh region on Tuesday with between 120 and 150 people onboard, bound for Europe.

“It sank. I do not have details of how,” Mr Hamiye said.

Samer Qubrusli, the Syrian director-general of ports, said rescue efforts were continuing on Friday.

The number of people who have left or tried to leave Lebanon by sea nearly doubled in 2021 from 2020, the United Nations refugee agency told Reuters earlier this month. It rose again by more than 70 percent in 2022 compared with the same period last year.

The Lebanese army said on Wednesday it had rescued 55 people on board one malfunctioning boat in the country’s territorial waters and towed it back to shore.

In April, a migrant boat that set off from near Tripoli sank during an interception by the Lebanese navy off the country’s coast. About 80 Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian migrants were on board, of whom some 40 were rescued, seven were confirmed dead and around 30 officially remain missing.