Death toll rises to 91 in migrant shipwreck off Syrian coast

Death toll rises to 91 in migrant shipwreck off Syrian coast
The tragic journey is already the deadliest on record to have departed Lebanon's shores.
3 min read
24 September, 2022
Funerals have already been taking place across Lebanon for those whose bodies have been returned [Getty]

At least 91 people are now known to have died after a boat carrying Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian nationals sank in the eastern Mediterranean, while the Lebanese army say they have arrested a smuggler on suspicion of involvement in the tragedy. 

The boat set off on Tuesday afternoon from the port of Minyeh, near Tripoli, carrying around 150 passengers - including children and elderly people. 

Syrian authorities began pulling bodies out of the sea off the coast of Tartus on Thursday afternoon, after the boat sank on its way to Italy. 

The death toll now stands at 91, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. 

The journey is the deadliest on record to have departed Lebanon’s shores, and the numbers of known casualties are likely to rise even further as rescue operations continue. 

Bilateral talks between the Syrian and Lebanese health ministers have since taken place, coordinating transport for the wounded and bodies of the dead from hospitals near Tartus back to Lebanon. 

Funerals have already been taking place across Lebanon for those whose bodies have been returned. 

Smuggling networks 

"These criminal traders in death, profiteering from lost souls must be found, and the harshest punishments possible be handed down,” tweeted Lebanese MP & Head of the Lebanese Human Rights Parliamentary Committee Michel Moussa.

The Lebanese army have published a statement claiming that they have apprehended a man for running an active smuggling network between Arida and Minyeh, on the country’s northernmost stretch of coast. 

The man arrested by Lebanese security services “admitted his involvement in preparing for the last smuggling operation from Lebanon to Italy by sea”. 

“Investigations into the network are still ongoing,” said the army’s statement, which did not reveal the identity of the suspect or the nature of the investigation. 

Reasons for fleeing

Since late 2019, Lebanon has witnessed a crushing economic downturn that the World Bank has said is among the worst the world has seen since the mid-nineteenth century.

More than three-quarters of the population lives in poverty, and unemployment has soared alongside massive inflation.

The spiralling crises have caused Lebanese to flee the country in startling numbers. 

One study showed the number of emigrants quadrupling between 2020 and 2021.

“We call for full solidarity from the international community to help improve the conditions of forcibly displaced people and host communities in the Middle East, particularly in countries neighbouring Syria. Too many people are being pushed to the brink,” said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, after news of the most recent tragedy broke.