Death boats of migrants from Lebanon will again venture on sea crossings: Survivors

With salt water rushing through his nose and mouth and out of sheer survival instinct, 12-year-old Ghazi Kadour stroked his arms and legs with difficulty to stay above the surface of the water after the migrant boat he was on with his mother and two younger brothers capsized off the coast of Tripoli. coast in Lebanon. Last month, the family ventured on a deadly sea crossing to Europe, fleeing the country’s miserable living conditions and grueling economic crisis.

He remembers passing out several times before a random stranger grabbed his arm and helped him up a plank of wood which they were rowing towards the navy army ship as he cried out for his brothers. His mother and four-year-old brother, Ameer, did not survive.

” I can not sleep ; my little brother is still under water and we buried our mother after she drowned,” Ghazi said, sitting next to his nine-year-old brother Hammoudi, his eyelids loose and the corners of his lips lowered. . The body of the mother, Khadeeja al-Nemr, was found a day after the boat plunged deep into the Mediterranean Sea. Before rescue teams pulled her out, a video circulated on social media showing her face down, floating on the surface of the water.

For the latest headlines, follow our Google News channel online or through the app.

Watching the video, her husband, who prefers to remain anonymous as a soldier, recognized his wife from the white tennis shoes he bought her days before she and the children set off on the deadly journey.

The recent sinking marks the latest tragedy in the series of unfortunate events that Lebanon has been reeling from since its economic and financial downfall began in 2019. Due to the depreciation of the country’s currency, two-thirds of the population , the highest and lowest groups on the educational scale, now live in poverty, with Tripoli ranked as the poorest city in the country.

Medics wait on the pier as soldiers search for survivors off the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli on April 24, 2022, after an overloaded migrant boat capsized in northern Lebanon. (File photo: AFP)

The last moments

The overloaded boat headed for the Italian coast from the Al-Qalamoun region in Tripoli. A collision with the armed forces cutter damaged the boat, tragically claiming the lives of would-be asylum seekers, and robbing their dream of turning a new leaf in Europe. Of the 84 Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian passengers on board, around 45 people were rescued. Six died, including a 40-year-old baby, and more than 30 people, mostly women and children, are still missing.

“I wanted to leave Lebanon with my family to escape the humiliation we live in,” Ghazi said. “My father’s salary is no longer enough.”

The Kadour family sat inside the hut, like most women and children, before the boat filled with water and sank. The father was not on board with them as he stayed in Lebanon to sell their house and sort out some logistics before making the same trip later.

He thought the boat had passed through regional waters when he lost contact with his wife. He didn’t believe things were bad until he received a call from a relative who told him the news of a shipwreck in the waters of Tripoli.

Zulfiqar Mneimneh had a final morbid video call with his 21-year-old nephew, Hashem Betlashi, who told him that the armed forces rammed them. It was the last thing he heard from his nephew.

Betlashi was on the migrant ship with her newly married sister and her husband, who survived the sinking. Betlashi did not. The only son of his mother, he had a degree in graphic design but could not find work and had no hope of a decent future in Lebanon.

“They were fleeing from hunger, humiliation and deprivation,” Mneimneh said, paralyzed with grief, swallowing his words with a pause. This is why we put our children on death boats; we want them to live with dignity.

Protesters gathered at the international port of Tripoli on April 27, raging over the sinking of migrants, which many blamed on Lebanese navy forces, accusing them of ramming the boat, sinking it.  (Photo: Sally Abou Al Joud)

Protesters gathered at the international port of Tripoli on April 27, raging over the sinking of migrants, which many blamed on Lebanese navy forces, accusing them of ramming the boat, sinking it. (Photo: Sally Abou Al Joud)

The migration flow from Lebanon

There has been no official update on the search efforts from the military or the government that tasked the military with investigating the incident.

Refuting survivors’ accusations that the military intentionally sunk the boat, the commander of the naval forces, Colonel Haitham Dannawi, exonerated the armed forces of these allegations.

Mneimneh does not count on the Lebanese government to find the sunken boat or the bodies lost at sea or conduct a transparent investigation to discover the truth about the causes of the sinking.

“All my nephew wanted was a decent life abroad, but he lost his life instead,” Mneimneh said.

The incident is part of the continuous flow of migrant boats that Lebanon has witnessed over the past two years. At least 38 boats with more than 1,500 passengers tried to risk the perilous journey in unseaworthy boats in 2020, hoping to gain asylum and find better opportunities in Cyprus and other parts of the country. ‘Europe. However, more than 75% of these boats have been foiled or turned away, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

This year, UNHCR also reported three migrant boats carrying a total of 64 passengers, in addition to the tragic incident of April 23.

Six days after the sinking, a migrant boat carrying 85 passengers and another carrying 23 Syrian passengers were intercepted off Tripoli by a patrol from the Lebanese Intelligence Directorate. According to the Homeland Security Forces, Marine Security Guards arrested seven smugglers who charged passengers thousands of dollars.

Mneimneh was considering making the sea voyage himself, but his wife was in a panic at the thought of drowning. “If my wife hadn’t been scared I would have joined my nephew and niece as the yacht was solid and well equipped.”

He had tried to resettle in Europe last year, where he traveled to Serbia on a tourist visa and smuggled to Germany via Hungary and then Austria. His wife and four children could not bear his absence, so he decided to return to Lebanon.

Shadi al-Jundi (right) lost his two sisters when the migrant boat they were on capsized.  He stands next to a family member at the entrance to the international port of Tripoli to ask the government to maximize its search efforts for victims.  (Photo: Sally Abou Al Joud)

Shadi al-Jundi (right) lost his two sisters when the migrant boat they were on capsized. He stands next to a family member at the entrance to the international port of Tripoli to ask the government to maximize its search efforts for victims. (Photo: Sally Abou Al Joud)

test fate

Bare’a Safa was cradling her friend’s 40-day-old baby when the army ship started circling their boat, creating towering waves that flooded the boat and drowning the baby. The attempted migration cost Safa, who was traveling with her four children, the lives of her two daughters, Salam, 31, and Rania, 27.

“We know why we fled – because of the terrible living conditions we live in,” Safa said, her body covered in bruises and wounds from the waves.

The mother earns about a million Lebanese pounds a month, less than $40 at the black market exchange rate, but her rent and electricity bill alone cost more than two million. “I borrowed money from family members to run things around the house.”

Safa’s son, Shadi al-Jundi, decided to join his family only 10 minutes before the boat left. He wasn’t convinced it would be safe until his uncle in Italy, where the boat was heading, told him about it.

“I was scared when the boat left the coast,” said al-Jundi, whose forehead bears scratches from the cabin window he broke to escape from the sinking boat. “I was on the phone with a friend telling him I was worried we wouldn’t be able to land.”

For days after the sinking, Ghazi and Hammoudi Kadour received help from a therapist to deal with the loss of their mother and baby brother. Their father is still planning to leave the country with his two boys, one way or another.

Although her daughters remain lost at sea, Safa would also venture out on a boat crossing again. But her son, devastated by the loss of his sisters, does not dare take such a risk. The traumatized man, who has worked as a skipper for years, wonders how he will ever be able to set foot on a boat again.

In Tripoli, bereaved families have started printing funeral documents, a widespread tradition in the Arab region where family information about the deceased is printed and distributed. In all mosques in the city, absent funeral prayers, known as Salat al-Gha’ib, an Islamic prayer performed over dead Muslims whose bodies have been lost, have been requested by Lebanon’s Sunni authority on the morning of Eid al-Fitr on Monday.

“We can no longer live in this country; it has become uninhabitable,” Mneimneh said. “Who wants to get on a boat and die? Do you think we liked it? Circumstances pushed us to take this step.

Read more:

Syrians in desperate need of help hit hard by fallout from Ukraine

Lebanese in 48 countries voting in legislative elections

Nearly 60% of voters in the Lebanese diaspora took part in the May 15 elections

Comments are closed.