After a shipwreck in the Mediterranean | Photo: Reuters / Giorgios Moutafis
After a shipwreck in the Mediterranean | Photo: Reuters / Giorgios Moutafis

The UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon says it provided "immediate assistance" on Monday to 37 people on a boat presumably in distress. One of the passengers had already died.

On Monday (September 14) morning, a United Nations peacekeeping force located a boat in international waters off the Lebanese coast and subsequently rescued 36 passengers. It also recovered the body of another who had already died.

That's according to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which neither specified why the boat needed help nor provided details on the cause of death.

The boat with 37 people, mostly Syrians, was "outside Lebanese territorial waters," UNIFIL said in an online statement from Monday. "The main priority for our peacekeepers was to rescue the remaining 36 people," according to the statement.

According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, 25 of the passengers were Syrians, eight Lebanese, and the remaining three of other nationalities.

Their intended destination was not immediately clear. In recent weeks, Lebanon and neighboring Cyprus have reported several migrant boats trying to leave the Middle Eastern country.

All survivors received medical treatment on board the UNIFIL ship "before being transferred to the Lebanese authorities," UNIFIL said.

From Lebanon to Cyprus

On September 8, the Lebanese army said it had prevented a group of Syrians and their Lebanese handlers from illicitly leaving the country by sea from the northern port city of Tripoli close to the Syrian border.

The day before, EU member Cyprus said it would send a team to Lebanon to help authorities stop boats with migrants heading for the Mediterranean island just 160 kilometres (100 miles) away.Cyprus is the most eastern EU country and located much closer to Syria, Lebanon and Turkey than the rest of the EU | Credit: France24On the same day and the two days before that, Cypriot authorities reported at least five boats carrying a total of 183 migrants that arrived on or near their shores from Syria and Lebanon in 48 hours.

Lebanon in crisis

Lebanon, which hosts around 1.5 million people displaced from war-torn neighbor Syria, is in the grips of its worst economic crisis in decades.

This financial tailspin has been worsened by the coronavirus pandemic and a massive explosion at the Beirut port at the beginning of August that killed more than 190 people including at least 34 refugees and destroyed large parts of the capital.

UN peacekeeping mission UNIFIL, which currently has around 10,500 troops from 45 contributing countries, was set up in 1978 to patrol the border between neighbors Lebanon and Israel. The two countries are technically at war.

The ship that has helped with Monday's rescue was part of a maritime force deployed to assist the Lebanese navy to secure territorial waters. However, it has before taken part in "humanitarian efforts," UNIFIL said.

With AFP

 

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