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Families mourn as death toll from sunken Lebanon migrant boat rises to 94

The death toll from a migrant boat that sank off the Syrian coast after sailing from Lebanon earlier this week has risen to 94, Syrian state TV said on Saturday.

Refugees and others were trying to flee Lebanon's worsening economic crisis

People gather on Friday at the Lebanese-Syrian border crossing in Arida, Lebanon, following the sinking of a migrant boat that officials say sank off the Syrian coast on Tuesday after sailing from Lebanon. The boat was carrying Palestinian and Syrian refugees, along with Lebanese citizens. (Mohamed Azakir/Reuters)

The death toll from a migrant boat that sank off the Syrian coast after sailing from Lebanon earlier this week has risen to 94, after more bodies were recovered from Syria's Baniyas coast on the Mediterranean, Syrian state TV reported on Saturday.

The sinking marks the deadliest such voyage yet from Lebanon, where mounting economic desperation has led many to board often rickety and overcrowded boats in the hope of reaching Europe.

Syrian authorities began finding bodies off the coast of the city of Tartus on Thursday afternoon. The Syrian Transport Ministry has quoted survivors as saying the boat left from Lebanon's northern Miniyeh region on Tuesday with between 120 and 150 people onboard, bound for Europe.

There were reported to be about 45 children on the boat, none of whom had survived, Lebanese Transport Minister Ali Hamieh said on Friday, though he could not confirm the number.

A mourner reacts at the coffin of a 24-year-old Palestinian man during a funeral procession in Tripoli, Lebanon, on Saturday. It was held for Abdul-Al Omar Abdul-Al, who was on the boat carrying migrants from Lebanon when it sank in Syrian waters. (Bilal Hussein/The Associated Press)

The family of Mustafa Misto, a Lebanese man who was on the boat with his wife and three young children, were accepting condolences at their apartment in the impoverished Bab Al-Ramel neighbourhood, in the northern city of Tripoli.

"We have no one but God," an elderly relative cried as mourners paid their respects.

The mother of Mustafa Misto, a Lebanese man who — with his wife and three young children — was on the boat that sank, walks with the help of men in the northern city of Tripoli on Friday. (Mohamed Azakir/Reuters)

People who feared their relatives were among the dead gathered at the border crossing with Syria, awaiting the bodies.

Dozens of people on the boat came from the Nahr al-Bared camp for Palestinian refugees near Tripoli, said camp resident Mahmoud Abu Heid. Already difficult living conditions for Palestinians had worsened during the economic crisis, which has devastated Lebanon for the last three years, he added.

Syrian hospitals treating some survivors

Hamieh said 20 survivors were being treated in Syrian hospitals, the bulk of them Syrians — among the estimated one million who live in Lebanon as refugees.

The transport minister said the boat was "very small" and made of wood, describing such sailings as an almost daily occurrence organized by people who did not care for safety.

A relative of a man who was aboard the migrant boat reacts near his body at the Lebanese-Syrian border crossing in Arida on Friday. (Mohamed Azakir/Reuters)

The spate of such voyages has been fuelled by Lebanon's financial collapse in the last three years — one of the worst ever recorded globally. Poverty rates have skyrocketed among the population of some 6.5 million.

Cyprus scrambled search-and-rescue crews late on Monday and Tuesday, when in the space of hours two vessels carrying migrants from Lebanon put out distress signals; there were 300 in one vessel, 177 in the other. In those cases, all on board were rescued, the island's Joint Rescue Co-ordination Center said.

The number of people who have left or tried to leave Lebanon by sea nearly doubled in 2021 from 2020, the United Nations refugee agency told Reuters earlier this month.

It rose again by more than 70 per cent in 2022 compared with the same period last year.

In April, a migrant boat that set off from near Tripoli sank during an interception by the Lebanese navy off the coast.

About 80 Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian migrants were on board, of whom some 40 were rescued, seven were confirmed dead and about 30 officially remain missing.

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