Lebanese military finds 8 bodies from capsized migrant boat

BEIRUT (AP) – The Lebanese military on Sunday found the bodies of eight migrants whose boat with at least 56 people capsized the night before, raising the death toll to nine, state media reported.

The National News Agency said the eight bodies were found near a small island off the coast of the northern city of Tripoli.

Several survivors told local TV stations that the Lebanese navy is to blame for the accident. They said a military ship crashed their migrant boat twice, damaging it in an attempt to force it to return to shore.

The military said it would hold a press conference later Sunday to explain what happened. Survivors called on the military to pick up involved officers for questioning.

Earlier Sunday, the Lebanese military announced that 47 people had been rescued and the body of a young girl was found. The military said high waves submerged the boat, transporting more people than it could handle.

Several of the rescued were treated on the spot while others were driven to nearby hospitals. One person was detained on suspicion of being a smuggler who sent the migrants, the military said.

Search operations began Saturday night after the boat, which was apparently heading for Europe, capsized shortly after leaving the Lebanese coastal city of Qalamoun.

Transport Minister Ali Hamieh confirmed to local television station Al-Jadeed on Sunday morning that eight more bodies had been found.

For many years, Lebanon was a country that welcomed refugees, but since the country’s economic meltdown began in October 2019, hundreds of people have traveled on the boats in hopes of a better life in Europe.

Migrants from Lebanon pay thousands of dollars to smugglers to take them to Europe in hopes of a better life. Hundreds have reached European countries, while dozens of others have been stopped and forced to return home by the Lebanese navy. Several people have lost their lives on the way to Europe over the past three years.

Lebanon, a small Mediterranean nation with 6 million people, including 1 million Syrian refugees, is in the grip of the worst economic crisis in the country’s modern history. The economic meltdown has put more than three-quarters of the country’s population in poverty.

The World Bank describes the crisis as one of the worst in the world since the 1850s. Tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs and the Lebanese pound has lost more than 90% of its value.

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