At least 77 migrants dead in the sinking of a boat that left Lebanon | International

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At least 77 people have died in the shipwreck off the Syrian coast of a migrant boat that had departed days ago from northern Lebanon, Syrian Health Minister Hassan al Ghabash said on Friday. It is one of the deadliest episodes of the Lebanese exodus caused by the crisis that the country has been going through since 2019.

The Syrian authorities have rescued around twenty survivors from the port of Tartus who are being treated in a city hospital, Al Ghabash pointed out in a statement clarifying that the balance of victims is not definitive. Most of the dead are Syrians, Lebanese and Palestinians. There are still dozens of missing, since the barge was transporting more than 150 people, the governor of Tartus, Abdel Halim Jalil, has specified, based on statements from survivors, reports the official Syrian agency Sana.

Some of the bodies were found on the beach. Others, recovered from the bottom of the sea by the rescue services, which are being supported by the Russian naval force. Some relatives of the deceased have crossed from Lebanon, in coordination with the Red Cross, in order to identify the bodies.

The boat left earlier this week for Europe from the impoverished area of ​​Minieh in northern Lebanon, near the Syrian border. More and more people are illegally leaving the country, in which 80% of the population is below the poverty level, the currency has lost 95% of its value against the dollar and banks have just closed indefinitely after several people entered armed to demand their savings, on which a partial corralito has been imposed.

A branch of the Bank of Beirut, closed and protected, this Thursday in the Lebanese capital.Bilal Hussein (AP)

Not only Lebanese do it. Also Syrian refugees (Lebanon hosts 1.5 million because of the war that began in 2011, according to the official figure, although the real number seems to be below one million) and Palestinians, who live mainly in the refugee camps established seven years ago. decades, following their expulsion and flight during the first Arab-Israeli war.

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Last April another boat sank while being chased by the Lebanese Navy off Tripoli. At least a dozen bodies were found, while 45 migrants were rescued alive. In addition, survivors of a boat that sank in Turkish waters this month told coast guards that they had left the Lebanese city of Tripoli with the intention of reaching Italy. Six people died, including two babies.

Illegal migration by sea, mainly to Cyprus -about 200 kilometers away- as a stopover to other European countries, skyrocketed in 2020, as the intense economic crisis in which Lebanon had been living for a year before worsened. According to data from the United Nations, at least 38 ships with more than 1,500 passengers left that year. More than 75% were intercepted by the authorities or returned to land. The phenomenon has only increased since then. The figure doubled in 2021 and this year it has grown another 70% compared to the same period last year.

Since this summer, the issue has become a priority for the EU migration authorities. Brussels believes that the fact that Damascus is trying to recover thousands of Syrian refugees in neighboring countries such as Lebanon – with promises of forgiveness to those who were not loyal to the Bashar al-Assad regime, etc. – is generating a flight effect and increasing the migratory flow. towards Europe, according to an internal EU document, informs Belen Dominguez Cebrian.

In July, talks began between Beirut and Damascus for the return of some 15,000 Syrians per month, which – together with the harsh economic situation in Lebanon – has made more and more middle and upper class people turn to drug trafficking mafias. of people to leave the country and increase the factors that revive the migratory route of the Eastern Mediterranean.

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