IOM, UNHCR and UNRWA: Latest tragedy at sea off Syria must prompt action

23 September 2022

The shipwreck off the coast of Syria late Thursday is simply tragic.

The boat had reportedly set off towards Europe on Tuesday from the port of Miniyeh, near Tripoli, Lebanon, carrying between 120 and 170 migrants and refugees, mostly Syrians, Lebanese, and Palestinians. Passengers included women, children, men and elderly people.

Search and rescue operations have confirmed that at least 70 people died so far. They were found in Syrian waters. Early reports indicate that 20 people were transferred to the hospital in the city of Tartous, some in a serious condition.

In Lebanon, the three agencies are following up with the relevant authorities and will offer support to bereaved families. UNHCR in Syria is also providing some material support to survivors in Tartous. 

“This is yet another heart-wrenching tragedy and we extend our deepest condolences to all those impacted,” said Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. “We call for full solidarity from the international community to help improve the conditions of forcibly displaced people and host communities in the Middle East, particularly in countries neighboring Syria. Too many people are being pushed to the brink.”

“People looking for safety should not be compelled to take such perilous and often deadly migration journeys,” said António Vitorino, IOM Director General. “We must work together to increase safe and legal pathways to regular migration to help reduce loss of life and protect vulnerable people on the move.

“This is just tragic. No one gets on these death boats lightly. People are taking these perilous decisions, risking their lives in search of dignity. We must do more to offer a better future and address the sense of hopelessness in Lebanon and across the region, including among Palestine refugees,” said Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini of UNRWA.

In response to increased sea departures from the region over the past months, IOM, UNHCR, and UNRWA call on coastal states to increase efforts to build their capacity to provide search and rescue services and to work to ensure predictability in identifying safe places of disembarkation.

However, it is even more critical that action be taken to address the root causes of these movements and for the international community, in line with the principle of responsibility-sharing, to strengthen access to safer, alternative pathways to stop people resorting to dangerous journeys. Much more humanitarian and development support must also go to those displaced and host communities throughout the region to help stem their suffering and improve their living conditions and opportunities.

Failing this, refugees, asylum-seekers, migrants, and internally displaced people will continue to take dangerous journeys in search of safety, protection, and a better life.

Background Information: 

UNRWA is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

The United Nations General Assembly established UNRWA in 1949 with a mandate to provide humanitarian assistance and protection to registered Palestine refugees in the Agency’s area of operations pending a just and lasting solution to their plight.

UNRWA operates in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, The Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. 

Tens of thousands of Palestine refugees who lost their homes and livelihoods due to  the 1948 conflict continue to be displaced and in need of support, nearly 75 years on.

UNRWA helps Palestine Refugees achieve their full potential in human development through quality services it provides in education, health care, relief and social services, protection, camp infrastructure and improvement, microfinance, and emergency assistance. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions.