By Enyichukwu Enemanna
No fewer than 53 migrants have been confirmed dead, while dozens are missing following a migrant boat mishap off the coast of Syria on Thursday, officials say.
More than 120 people, mainly Lebanese and Syrians are believed to have been on board the small boat that capsized on its way to Europe.
Lebanese Transport Minister Ali Hamie said on Friday that 19 people had been rescued near the Syrian port city of Tartus.
The latest boat mishap is assumed to be the highest-ever death toll for a migrant crossing from Lebanon.
“I am discussing with the Syrian transport minister a mechanism to recover the bodies in Syria,” Hamie told AFP, adding that rescue efforts were still underway.
In April, dozens of people were killed when an overcrowded migrant vessel sank off the coast of Tripoli, prompting widespread anger.
Lebanon has seen a spike in migration amid a deepening economic crisis.
The number of people who tried to leave Lebanon by sea nearly doubled in 2021 compared to the previous year, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
Bulgaria’s interior ministry said on Thursday that 38 migrants, including eight children, were rescued in the Black Sea by the country’s coastguard.
The group — from Syria and Afghanistan — were spotted in trouble during a storm on their way to Romania, officials said.
It is the first time since 2014 that migrants have been found in Bulgarian territorial waters, according to Anton Mirkov, director of the regional border police.
“The boat was seven to eight metres long and ran out of fuel,” he told reporters.
Bulgaria recently sent around 300 soldiers to its 259-kilometre border with Turkey to reinforce a barbed wire fence.
Pressure on migration in the EU country has risen after two police officers were killed by a bus carrying migrants last month.
The Greek coast guard has also stated that it is searching for six migrants reported missing off the southeastern Aegean island of Leros.
Officials say that 49 migrants were found “in good health” on an island beach but that “their inflatable boat was found destroyed at sea”.
Survivors said that “a total of 55 people were on board the boat,” the Greek coastguard added in a statement.
The majority of the migrants are from Somalia, Sierra Leone and Uganda.
Another rescue operation was also underway near the southwestern town of Pylos on the Greek mainland.
The coastguard says that 85 migrants “in difficulty” were rescued by a cargo ship and oil tanker in the area. The survivors were transferred to the nearby port of Kalamata.