The barges of death

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Every day the van from Chadi travel several times the road that connects Beirut with Tripoli. For 5,000 pounds – about 60 euro cents – it transports travelers from the capital of Lebanon to the second city of the country. “This is not life: If I don’t work today, I won’t eat tomorrow“laments the Tripolitan, father of two girls. In just three weeks, they have left the port of Tripoli 11 barges with 348 people bound for Cyprus, according to the authorities of the European country. “We all want to get out of here, in Europe there is life“says Chadi. Lebanon watches as its citizens leave with Syrian refugees in the”death ships“. Never in times of peace the sea that bathes the Lebanese coasts had witnessed so many goodbyes.

“Tell me! Tell me if it is not better to die in the sea trying to find a life than to be here one day after another with nothing to do, this is dying in life“, Explain Nour. This worker from the port of Tripoli acknowledges that he sees dozens of people leaving every day. “Do you see that ship over there?” a tourist boat, “Today he is here but tomorrow he will surely not.” Between the beginning of July and September 14, at least 21 boats have left Lebanon for the Cypriot island, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In all of 2019, only 17 vessels undertook the journey.

The desperate economic situation is what pushes the majority of Lebanese to leave. With the devaluation of the local pound by 80%, half of the country’s population is under the poverty line. The economic losses caused by the explosion in the port of Beirut on August 4 have thrown more and more people into the uncertainty of the sea. “Most want to emigrate legally but with the coronavirus issue it is practically impossible“acknowledges Mohammad Lowweh of the NGO March.” It’s literally like we have nothing to lose; our own country expels us“.

No asylum

Last September 14 a United Nations ship found a fishing barge with 50 persons on board they carried adrift eight days after the abandonment of the smuggler who had charged them $ 930. The sea swallowed the lives of four adults and two children, although to this day bodies of the disappeared continue to arrive on the shores of Lebanon. “On these barges there are Syrian refugees but also Lebanese locals that they are forced to migrate due to the economic crisis, “explains UNHCR spokesperson in Lebanon, Lisa Abou Khaled.” The problem is that the Lebanese are not considered refugees because they do so for economic reasons and not because of conflict or persecution; so, they cannot ask for asylum“, the Mint.

According to a report by Human Rights Watch, the Cypriot coast guard forces made more than 200 hot returns during the first week of September without giving these migrants the opportunity to submit asylum applications. Mahmud -fictitious name to preserve your safety- has been since 2008 trying to leave Lebanon by legal means, but after being detained for terrorism and imprisoned for a year, leaving by air is no longer an option.

“I first sold all his belongings to buy a boat and try to reach Cyprus with his wife and five children, “says this double graduate in computer science and German language. According to the 33-year-old Mahmud, smuggling groups have begun passing information to intelligence agents in the face of the increase in shipments. “They charge them and leave them at sea to be detained by an Army ship,” he explains. Therefore, the authorities were unaware of the intentions of his cousin’s ship. “I got on the barge but when I saw the coast go away, i jumped into the water and I swam to shore; if they stop me, life is over for me“Mahmud laments. But also for his cousin’s family, because in Lebanon stories do not have happy endings.

“There is life”

Omar works in the port and proudly boasts of having his son in Cyprus. “There life is completely different,” he explains heatedly, “there is money, there is work, there is electricity, there is life.” During the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990) and the Israeli invasion of 2006, these journeys were part of the reality of the country, one more form of the fight for survival. But in peacetime, such large numbers of games had not been seen. Although it is a least popular route Compared to Libya, Tunisia or Turkey, this new trend is increasingly common among the population due to the indifference of their leaders.

They are all Ali Baba, some thieves “, Nour burns from his business in the port of Tripoli.” Macron will not come to fix it because he will end up becoming another Ali Baba, “he adds. He blames the political class perpetuated in power for the critical economic situation.” We don’t have a government we have a mafia“The sea is calm, oblivious to the rage of a people who love their country despite its rejection. “Lebanon is a beautiful country, but it needs people with the intention of doing something and that will not happen as long as we continue to have this mafia in government,” defends Omar. Like all Lebanese, Mahmud agrees: “our country is very beautiful, but the situation is bad; when the situation improves, no one will want to jump into the sea“.

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