Dozens of Lebanese and Syrian migrants stuck at sea

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BEIRUT (TBEN) – Dozens of Lebanese and Syrian migrants stranded for days on a sinking fishing boat in the Mediterranean are urging Europe’s coastguards to rescue them after two children have died.

The 60 or so migrants told relatives and volunteer groups by satellite phone that two young children have died and that the group has been without food, water and baby food for the past three days. On board are Syrian refugees and Lebanese from the severely impoverished northern provinces who are trying to reach Italy for work. They left Lebanon about 10 days ago off the coast of the northern city of Tripoli.

“They are trying to remove the water that leaks into the boat with buckets, that’s all they have,” the brother of one of the Syrian passengers told The The Bharat Express News. He asked for their names not to be released for security reasons and because some migrants did not want to reveal the news to their families at home. “This is a fishing boat meant for five people, not 60.”

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Lebanon has a population of 6 million, including 1 million Syrian refugees, and since late 2019 has been gripped by a severe economic collapse that has driven more than three-quarters of the population into poverty.

The migrants are reportedly stranded near the coasts of Malta and Italy. According to families and activists in contact with the migrants, authorities have not sent rescue workers. Lebanese parliamentarian Ashraf Rifi urged the Italian government, as well as the Lebanese Foreign Ministry and the Lebanese embassy in Rome to take action.

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According to families and Alarm Phone, an activist network helping rescuers to distressed migrants at sea, Malta has not yet authorized a rescue operation and has not authorized a commercial freighter to rescue the stranded migrants.

Meanwhile, families fear the leaking boat could sink at any moment.

“When I call, you can hear the children screaming and crying in the background,” said the relative. “I don’t know why no government has taken action to save them, is it because they are poor people trying to make ends meet for their families?”

Once a country that received refugees, Lebanon has become a launching pad for dangerous migration by sea to Europe.

As the crisis worsened, more Lebanese, as well as Syrian and Palestinian refugees, set out to sea, with security forces reporting thwarted migration attempts almost weekly.

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In April, a boat carrying dozens of Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians attempting to migrate to Italy by sea crashed more than three miles from the port of Tripoli after a clash with the Lebanese navy. Dozens were killed in the incident.

The circumstances of the ship’s sinking are disputed. Survivors say their boat was rammed by the Lebanese navy, while the army claims the migrants’ boat collided with a naval vessel as they tried to get away.

The sinking in April was Lebanon’s biggest migrant tragedy in recent years and put the government further on the defensive at a time when the country is in economic freefall and public trust in the state and its institutions is rapidly crumbling.