BEIRUT: The number of Syrian refugees who died after a storm struck while they were attempting to cross the Lebanese-Syrian border has risen to 15, a security source told The Daily Star.
Two additional bodies were found in the mountainous terrain dividing the two countries near the Bekaa town of Suweiri, after 13 Syrian refugees had been reported dead Friday.
Suweiri Mayor Hussein Ali Amer told The Daily Star Saturday that the death toll was in fact 14 rather than 15. He noted that one of the bodies found Saturday was that of a woman.
Amer said that the Army was continuing its search for bodies in the high-altitude areas on the outskirts of the town, adding that it was likely that more bodies would be found.
The bodies previously discovered by the Lebanese Army and Civil Defense included those of three men, two kids and eight women. The deaths all appeared to have been a result of plunging overnight temperatures and heavy snowfall.
“The victims were trying to cross an arduous and rugged passage in freezing temperatures,” a U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) statement said Friday. “Others in the group, including a pregnant woman, were discovered in time and assisted by nearby residents and the Lebanese Armed Forces and Civil Defense to reach hospitals before they froze to death.”
UNHCR said it was “distraught” over the deaths and called on countries to allow safe passage and entry to those in need of protection.
In 2015, the Lebanese government barred the UNHCR from registering Syrian refugees and placed additional restrictions on them entering the country without guarantors, work visas or for transit.
These restrictions have reportedly led to a rise in smuggling. An Army source told The Daily Star Friday that a smuggler who was with the group had “left them.”
Although Friday’s incident received substantial media attention due to the number of casualties, the irregular entrance of Syrian refugees into Lebanon is a regular occurrence.
Amer said that the town’s notables were set to hold a news conference Saturday at around 2:30 p.m. to address the recent developments.
He had noted in a phone call with The Daily Star Friday that the Army’s current measures were inadequate and that the issue had become significantly more urgent in recent years.