Geneva – A boat carrying 75 migrants and asylum seekers has capsized off the coast of Tripoli, northern Lebanon, resulting in the death and loss of a number of them. The Lebanese authorities should open an urgent and independent investigation into the incident, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said Sunday in a statement.
The boat, carrying families, set off at about 7:30 p.m. local time from the Qalamoun region towards the Italian coast and sank less than half an hour later, as Lebanese forces boats rammed the boat, according to a survivors' testimonies.
Given by four survivors—three men and one woman—the testimonies indicated that a military boat came very close to them and told them to stop and return. The migrants did not respond and continued on their way. Later, the military rammed the migrants’ boat, inflicting a hole in it that led to leakage and the capsizing. More gunboats arrived and began rescuing the migrants after.
On Sunday morning, the director of the Port of Tripoli announced that five more bodies had been found, bringing the total number of victims to nine.
Late on Saturday evening, the Lebanese army said in a press statement that its naval forces had managed "to rescue 48 people who were on a boat that sank while being smuggled illegally off the Qalamoun coast, in the North Governorate."
The Lebanese army said the boat sank due to "water leakage due to the high waves and the overloads on the boat."
"The naval forces […] worked to tow the boat and rescue most of those on board, who were given first aid, and the injured were transferred to hospitals in the area. Meanwhile, the forces are continuing their operations by land, sea, and air to rescue others who are still missing."
The Lebanese authorities should focus their efforts on search and rescue operations in the area where the boat sank in the hope of finding at least ten missing survivors.
Euro-Med Monitor's Chief Operations Officer, Anas Aljerjawi, said: "It is necessary to open an independent and impartial investigation to discover the circumstances of the sinking of the boat and take all legal requirements that may contribute to the non-recurrence of this dangerous incident."
"This incident is a tragic reminder of the state of despair the Lebanese live in resulting from the unprecedented deterioration of living conditions, as they are more ready than ever to risk their lives on dangerous journeys to escape their difficult reality," he added.
In a similar context, a Tunisian security official said yesterday evening that at least 12 African migrants drowned, while ten others were missing after four boats carrying migrants sank off the coast of Sfax while trying to reach Italy. The security official confirmed that the coast guard forces in Sfax rescued 98 people who were on board the four boats.
About 220 migrants and asylum seekers have died or gone missing in 10 separate incidents in the Mediterranean since the beginning of this April, bringing the number since the beginning of this year to about 590 people, most of whom died after they departed from Tunisia and Libya towards the Italian coasts.
The number of migrants and asylum seekers arriving in Europe has escalated during the past year, according to a recent Euro-Med Monitor report. The figures indicate the arrival of about 116,573 migrants and asylum seekers to Europe via the Mediterranean in 2021, an increase of more than 20% from 2020, which saw the arrival of 88,143 migrants and asylum seekers.
Similarly, 2021 witnessed an increase in the number of deaths and missing persons in the Mediterranean, as the death and loss of about 1,864 people, including 64 children, were recorded, an increase of about 21% over the year 2020, in which 1,401 people died or went missing.
The Lebanese authorities should responsibly and seriously deal with the allegations, launch an in-depth investigation into the incident, and hold accountable all persons who may have directly or indirectly caused the sinking of the boat if the allegations are proven.
European destination countries should also stop criminalizing and prosecuting informal rescue efforts and instead work on permanently activating official rescue missions to ensure a rapid response to drowning incidents in a way that may help limit the escalating numbers of drownings in the Mediterranean.
The EU should establish a new mechanism through which safe routes can be designated to protect migrants and asylum seekers from human traffickers, develop proper mechanisms and conditions for reception, stop arbitrarily rejecting asylum applications, and work to integrate migrants and refugees into their new communities.