October 15, 2015 / 4:32 PM / 2 years ago

Five members of Lebanese family drown on journey to Greece

Refugees and migrants board a bus following their arrival by passenger ferry, Eleftherios Venizelos from the island of Lesbos at the port of Piraeus, near Athens, Greece, October 15, 2015. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Five members of a Lebanese family drowned and another four are missing after the boat carrying them from Turkey to Greece sank in the Mediterranean, relatives said on Thursday.

They said 12 family members left Lebanon, despairing of their prospects if they stayed in their own country, on the journey via Turkey to Greece, seeking a better life in the European Union.

Many of the hundreds of thousands of people who have made the dangerous sea crossing to the Greek Mediterranean islands have been fleeing conflict in Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan.

Lebanon is not at war, but relatives of the Safwan family who died at sea said conditions in their own country, which is hosting a million Syrian refugees and has a barely functioning government, were little better.

The family had already left their home in the Bekaa Valley, close to the border with Syria where civil war has raged for more than four years, to a suburb of the capital Beirut.

“You have no system, no state, no proper health system, no proper education,” said Mohammed Safwan, whose parents were among the 12 who set off on Sunday from Lebanon.

“All officials here care only for themselves, their pockets and their people. They don’t think of anyone else.”

He said the family had decided to travel to Europe because they had heard the borders were open to refugees.

“My dad, my mum, my brothers, my elder sister and her children, my cousin and his son,” Safwan said. “A whole family of 12 people that left Izmir on a boat to Greece and then we learned the news yesterday.”

“There are five bodies till now, two family members are at the police station, one in hospital and there are still four others we know nothing about yet.”

Almost 400,000 people have arrived in Greece this year, according to the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR.

Their numbers have overwhelmed the crisis-stricken Greek government’s ability to cope, but still represent a tiny fraction of the 11 million people displaced by the Syrian war, one of several conflicts driving the wave of migration.

Albert Rizkallah, a cousin of the victims, said the family was appealing for help to get their bodies home. “The state did not help the Lebanese people when they were alive, it should at least have mercy on them when dead,” he said.

Reporting by Walid Saleh; Writing by Dominic Evans

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