Thirteen more bodies were recovered Saturday after a boat carrying migrants from Lebanon sank off the Syrian coast, raising the overall toll to 90, Syrian state television said, in one of the eastern Mediterranean’s deadliest such shipwrecks.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi, called it a “heart-wrenching tragedy”.
“The number of dead from the sinking off the coast of Tartus has risen to 90,” state television said.
The Lebanese army said that it had arrested a Lebanese national who “admitted to organising the recent (people) smuggling operation from Lebanon to Italy by sea”.
Nearly three years of economic collapse have turned the country into a launchpad for migrants, with its own citizens joining Syrian and Palestinian refugees clamouring to leave by dangerous sea routes.
Those on board were mostly Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians, and included both children and elderly people, the UN said.
In Tripoli, anger mixed with grief as relatives received news of the death of their loved ones.
– ‘Death boats’ –
The UN children’s agency, UNICEF, said they had initial reports that 10 children were “among those who lost their lives”.
Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees said: “No one gets on these death boats lightly.
Lazzarini said more must be done “to offer a better future and address a sense of hopelessness in Lebanon and across the region, including among Palestine refugees”.
Most of the boats setting off from Lebanon head for European Union member Cyprus, an island about 175 kilometres (110 miles) to the west.