Two refugees die, 232 rescued after boat capsizes off Lebanon

Tripoli residents who are in contact with the survivors say a woman and a child – both Syrian – have died.

Two migrants and refugees died and 232 others rescued after the boat they were travelling in capsized off the coast of Lebanon, the Lebanese army has said.

Three naval vessels and a boat operated by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) took part in a rescue operation off Selaata, north of the Lebanese capital, Beirut, the army said.

Reports from the northern city of Tripoli – Lebanon’s second-largest and most impoverished – said Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian men, women and children were on the boat that left northern Lebanon after midnight on Friday.

Residents of Tripoli who are in contact with survivors said the dead were a Syrian woman and a Syrian child.

Earlier, the army said a naval patrol had been dispatched to rescue the vessel packed with people attempting to “illegally leave Lebanese waters”.

On Twitter, UNIFIL confirmed it was assisting the Lebanese navy “in search and rescue operation at sea between Beirut and Tripoli where a boat in distress with a large number of people on board was found”.

Dozens of relatives of those rescued streamed into Tripoli port to await their return to shore, AFP news agency said.

Lebanon is mired in what the World Bank describes as one of the worst economic crises in modern history. The country also hosts more than a million refugees from Syria’s war.

It was once just a launchpad for foreign migrants and refugees, but nearly three years of economic collapse have left Lebanon’s own citizens increasingly joining Syrian and Palestinian refugees clamouring to leave by dangerous sea routes.

“We can no longer live in this country – or Syria,” said Younes Jomaa, a Syrian originating from Idlib and a brother of one of the surviving refugees.

They are among millions displaced over more than a decade by Syria’s war.

“I had planned to go with my brother, but was unable to get enough money together,” Jomaa said, adding that his brother had taken on debt to fund his voyage.

In late September about 100 migrants and refugees died when their boat sank off the Syrian coast after departing from Lebanon, in one of the deadliest such episodes.

Migrants and refugees departing from Lebanon head for Europe, with one of the main destinations being Cyprus, only 175km (110 miles) away.

The UN’s refugee agency has said at least 1,570 individuals, including 186 Lebanese nationals, had embarked or tried to embark on illicit sea journeys from Lebanon between January and November 2021.

Source: News Agencies