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Dozens dead in Mediterranean after boats sink off Lebanon and Tunisia

Hundreds of thousands of migrants have attempted to cross the Mediterranean in recent years
A Lebanese Armed Forces vessel enters the port of Tripoli, allegedly containing victims from the capsizing of a boat carrying around 60 migrants a day earlier, off the coast of the northern city (AFP)

Dozens have died after boats capsized in the Mediterranean over the weekend off the coasts of Lebanon and Tunisia.

The Red Cross said on Saturday that a boat carrying around 60 passengers had capsized off the coast of north Lebanon, with Lebanese troops confirming the deaths of at least six people.

"A boat carrying 60 people has sunk. The Red Cross has dispatched seven ambulances to Tripoli's port," the Red Cross said in a statement.

Lebanon's army said it had rescued 48 people and on Sunday said it had retrieved five corpses, taking the confirmed death toll to at least six, though the country's official National News Agency had previously reported that eight bodies were recovered.

The body of a young girl was retrieved on Saturday night. 

The Red Cross did not specify whether they were migrants trying to leave the country illegally.

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Lebanon, a country of around six million people, is grappling with an unprecedented financial crisis that the World Bank says is on a scale usually associated with wars.

The currency has lost more than 90 percent of its purchasing power and the majority of the population lives below the poverty line.

The UN refugee agency says at least 1,570 people, 186 of them Lebanese, left or tried to leave illegally by sea from Lebanon between January and November 2021.

Most were hoping to reach European Union member Cyprus, an island 175 km away.

This is up from 270 passengers, including 40 Lebanese, in 2019.

Most of those trying to leave Lebanon by sea are Syrian refugees, but people from Lebanon are increasingly joining their ranks.

17 dead off Tunisia

Tunisian authorities have also recovered the bodies of 17 migrants after four boats trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea heading for Europe capsized, a court official said on Sunday.

Ali Aayari, a lieutenant colonel in the Tunisian Coast Guard, added that 98 migrants were rescued off the coast of Sfax.

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The coastline of Sfax has become a major departure point for people fleeing conflict and poverty in Africa and the Middle East and seeking a better life in Europe.

The interior ministry said this week that it had arrested more than 20,000 migrants off its coast last year. At least 15,000 reached the coast of Italy in 2021.

In recent months, dozens of people have drowned off the Tunisian coast, with an increase in the frequency of attempted crossings from Tunisia and Libya towards Italy.

Hundreds of thousands of people have made the perilous Mediterranean crossing in recent years.

Figures from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) showed that more than 123,000 migrants arrived in Italy in 2021, compared to more than 95,000 in 2020.