BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon on Saturday sent a navy force to help rescue dozens of migrants from a boat sinking in the Mediterranean Sea a day after it left northern Lebanon’s coast, the military said in a statement.
The short army statement said the vessel was carrying people “who were trying to illegally leave Lebanon’s territorial waters.” It said three Lebanese navy boats and one from the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon, known as UNIFIL, were rescuing the approximately 200 migrants.
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 on Friday night. Residents in the city who are in contact with survivors said that everyone on board was rescued, with only one person suffering a minor injury.
Lebanese security forces have been working to prevent migrants from heading to Europe at a time when the small nation is in the grips of the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history.
A crowded boat capsized on Sept. 21 off the coast of Tartus, Syria, just over a day after departing Lebanon. At least 94 people were killed, among them at least 24 children. Twenty people survived and some remain missing.
It was one of the deadliest ship sinkings in the eastern Mediterranean Sea in recent years, as more and more Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians try to flee cash-strapped Lebanon to Europe to find jobs and stability.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees says risky sea migration attempts from Lebanon over the past year have surged by 73%.
Lebanon’s economic meltdown that began in October 2019, has left three- quarters of the country’s 6 million people, including a million Syrian refugees, living in poverty.