UN agencies: At least 70 dead in a “tragic” shipwreck off the coast of Syria |

In a joint press release issued late on Thursday, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), said the boat set out for Europe on Tuesday from the port. Minieh, near Tripoli, Lebanon, carries between 120 and 170 passengers.

Most of the refugees and migrants were Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian. Among the passengers were women, children, men and elderly people.

Search and rescue operations have confirmed at least 70 deaths in Syrian waters.

At least 20 in hospital

The statement stated, “Initial reports indicate that 20 people have been transferred to Tartous city hospital, some of them in serious condition.”

News reports said the boat was believed to be on its way to Europe, but it was not clear what caused the sinking.

In Lebanon, the three agencies are following up with the relevant authorities and will provide support to the bereaved families, the agency reported. UNHCR in Syria is also providing some material support to survivors recovering from their ordeal in Tartous.

“This is another heartbreaking tragedy and we extend our deepest condolences to all those affected,” said Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Solidarity call

“We call on the international community for full solidarity to help improve conditions for forcibly displaced people and host communities in the Middle East, particularly in countries neighboring Syria. Too many people are being pushed to the brink.”

Antonio Vitorino, Director-General of the International Organization for Migration, declared that those simply looking for safety “should not be forced to undertake perilous and often deadly migration journeys”.

“We must work together to increase safe and legal pathways for regular migration to help reduce loss of life and protect vulnerable people on the move.

© UNICEF/Ashley Gilbertson

Volunteers help refugees arriving on the island of Lesbos in the northern Aegean region of Greece. (a file)

Nobody gets into these boats lightly.

“This is just tragic. Nobody rides these death boats lightly. People are making these risky decisions, risking their lives in search of dignity,” UNRWA Commissioner-General Philip Lazzarini said.

“We must do more to deliver a better future and address the sense of despair in Lebanon and throughout the region, including among Palestine refugees.”

In response to the increase in maritime departures from the region over the past months, the International Organization for Migration, UNHCR and UNRWA are calling on coastal states to “increase efforts to build their capacity to provide search and rescue services and work to ensure predictability in determining safe places to disembark.”

Addressing the root causes

However, the agencies argue that it is critical to take action to address the root causes of these movements and for the international community, in line with the principle of responsibility-sharing, to promote access to safer alternative pathways.

“More humanitarian and development support must also be provided to those displaced and host communities across the region to help stem their suffering and improve their living conditions and opportunities.

“Failed, refugees, asylum seekers, migrants and the internally displaced will continue to make dangerous journeys in search of safety, protection and a better life.

A harsh reminder: UNICEF

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said in a statement issued later today, Thursday, that the tragedy, “And those who came before it, are a powerful reminder that collective action is urgently needed to prevent families from dying at sea.”

The agency stated that another boat carrying about 55 migrants also sank off the Greek coast, and three children were reported missing. UNICEF indicated that Lebanon, with its escalating crises, witnessed an escalation of “desperate attempts” to flee the country in recent months, “which left many dead.”

“Every death of a child at sea underscores the need to protect and support children wherever they are and expand the options for children and families to move around safely, without having to risk their lives.”

The agency said it stands ready to provide assistance to affected children and families, and remains committed to working with Lebanon and other countries in the region, “to ensure the safety and well-being of children at all times.”

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