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Lebanon: Two refugees die and 232 rescued after boat capsizes off coast

Relatives of those rescued stream into Tripoli port to await their return to shore
Families of boat sinking survivors in Lebanon await news of their relatives outside Tripoli port on 1 January 2023 (AFP)
Families of those aboard the boat when it capsized await news of their relatives outside Tripoli port on 1 January 2023 (AFP)

Two migrants have died and 232 were rescued after their boat capsized off the coast of Lebanon on Saturday, the Lebanese Army said.

Men, women, and children - mostly refugees from Syria along with 50 Lebanese - were on board the vessel when it got into difficulty, according to an AFP correspondent.

Local reports said the dead were a Syrian woman and a Syrian child. 

Early on Saturday, the army said a naval patrol had been dispatched to rescue the vessel packed with people attempting to "illegally leave Lebanese waters". 

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On Twitter, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) confirmed it was assisting the Lebanese Navy "in search and rescue operation at sea between Beirut [and] Tripoli where a boat in distress with a large number of people on board was found".

Dozens of relatives of those rescued streamed into Tripoli's port to await their return to shore, AFP's correspondent said.  

Lebanon is mired in what the World Bank describes as one of the worst economic crises in modern history. The country also hosts more than a million refugees from Syria's war. 

Nearly three years of economic collapse have driven more and more Lebanese citizens to join the Syrian and Palestinian refugees leaving the country by dangerous sea routes.

Migrants often head for Europe. One of the main destinations is Cyprus, which is only 175 kilometres (110 miles) away. 

"We can no longer live in this country - or Syria," said Younes Jomaa, a Syrian originating from Idlib and a brother of one of the surviving migrants. 

"I had planned to go with my brother, but was unable to get enough money together," Jomaa said, adding that his brother had taken on debt to fund his voyage. 

In late September, around 100 migrants died when their boat sank off the Syrian coast after departing from Lebanon, in one of the deadliest such episodes. ​​

The UN's refugee agency UNHCR has said at least 1,570 individuals, including 186 Lebanese nationals, had embarked or tried to embark on illicit sea journeys from Lebanon between January and November 2021.

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