REUTERS

At least 86 migrants have died after the boat they were travelling in sank off Syria’s coast on Thursday, the country’s state-run media reported.

Twenty survivors were taken to hospital, while rescuers continue to search for missing passengers.

Officials said Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian nationals – including women and children – were believed to be among the 120 to150 people on board.

It is not clear what caused the accident.

Officials added that the vessel had departed from Minyeh, a city near the Lebanese port city of Tripoli, before it sank near the Syrian island of Arwad, close to Tartus.

The boat is believed to have been heading to Cyprus when it sank.

Tartus, where survivors have been transported, is about 30 miles (50 km) north of Tripoli. Syrian news agency Sana said authorities would transfer the bodies of unidentified victims to the border crossing to hand them over to the Lebanese Red Cross.

Victims’ families mourn in Tripoli

In a small dark room in a poor neighbourhood, a family mourns.

Mustafa Mesto, 35, died with his two daughters and son, while his wife and her father are still in a critical condition in a hospital in Syria.

Mustafa, was a Lebanese taxi driver, married to a Syrian Kurd who had fled the war the country’s vicious civil war. One family fleeing devastation in two countries. They had hoped to reach Italy, dreaming of a better life.

But now their families, like those of others who lost their lives on this boat, are in shock.

Mustafa’s mother, Adla, sits in the middle of a big room filled with grieving relatives. She wails out loud, blaming the Lebanese government for her son’s fate.

“He ran away from poverty and the terrible conditions they left us in. These politicians could not care less about our lives. Nothing will bring him back to me, nothing will bring his little children back to me.”

Lebanon hosts an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees, and almost 14,000 from other countries, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) – the largest number of refugees per capita in the world.

However, the country is facing a severe economic crisis, fuelled by Covid-19 and the 2020 Beirut port explosion, with more than 80% of the population struggling to afford food and medicine.

The situation is having a severe impact on the country’s migrant population, many of whom are choosing to flee elsewhere, including to Europe.

Last year, Lebanon saw a major spike in the number of migrants using its shores to travel to Europe. According to UN figures, departures from the country nearly doubled in 2021 from 2020.

And this year crossings have risen by more than 70% compared with the same time last year, international observers said.

Earlier this month, six people, including children, were killed when a boat carrying migrants from Lebanon to Europe sank off the coast of Turkey. The country’s coast guard said 73 migrants from four boats had been rescued.

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