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Lebanon mourns victims of migrant shipwreck

A woman in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli holds a photograph of her son who drowned a day earlier in a boat carrying migrants that sank off the Syrian coast
— Tripoli (Lebanon) (AFP)

Mustafa Misto embarked on a sea voyage from crisis-hit Lebanon seeking a better life for his family, but he drowned in a shipwreck alongside his children and dozens of others, relatives said Friday.

"His dream was not to obtain another nationality, but simply to enrol his children in a school and feed them," his relative Jihad al-Maneh said.

Lebanon, which since 2019 has been mired in a financial crisis branded by the World Bank as one of the worst in modern times, has become a launchpad for illegal migration.

Its desperate citizens are joining Syrian and Palestinian refugees clamouring to leave the country, where more than 80 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

Rescuers search for survivors of the shipwreck off the coast of Syria's southern port city of Tartus

Misto, a taxi driver, and his three children were among at least 73 people who died when the boat they boarded in northern Lebanon sank off Syria's coast on Thursday, in one of the deadliest such tragedies from the eastern Mediterranean nation.

His wife was among the 20 people who survived, but with more than 100 people believed to have been aboard the vessel, many are still missing.

In the northern city of Tripoli, Lebanon's poorest, anger mixed with grief as relatives received news of the death of their loved ones.

In Bab al-Raml, one of Tripoli's most impoverished districts, Misto's bereaved relatives gathered in a family home.

According to Maneh, Misto had paid between $3,000 to $5,000 for each member of his family who joined him on the boat.

He had sold his car and borrowed money from his brothers to pay the smuggler's fees, Maneh said.

In the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, relatives mourn a victim lost at sea when a boat carrying migrants from Lebanon sank off the Syrian coast

Misto's mother even sold her jewelry to help her son cover the costs.

- 'Dead or alive'? -

Misto's family was not informed of the boat's intended destination.

They have repeatedly tried to reach out to caretaker prime minister Najib Mikati, who hails from Tripoli, but they have yet to receive a reply.

"Where are the authorities? We don't know if our children are dead or alive," Maneh said.

Ambulances wait on the Lebanese side of border with Syria for the return of bodies of victims of a migrant shipwreck disaster

One of Misto's childhood friends, Omar, was among the mourners who visited the family to pay his condolences.

"Poverty and dire living conditions made Mustafa leave Lebanon," Omar told AFP.

He said that Misto had been determined on securing a better life.

"I will leave even if I die: either I succeed or I die," he had kept repeating before he left, Omar said.

The Talawi family, which hails from the northern region of Akkar but lives in Tripoli, were among the first to bury their dead.

The body of two children were returned to them by Syria.

Early on Friday morning, they buried two sisters, aged five and nine, who were among the victims of the shipwreck. Their mother and two brothers are still missing.

Their father, Wissam al-Talawi, who works in a cleaning company, survived the tragedy, and was receiving treatment in hospital.

Ahmed, Wissam's brother, said he had decided to leave Lebanon because he "couldn't afford his daily expenses, or the cost of enrolling his children in school".

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