Last week, a boat carrying refugees and migrants capsized off the coast of Syria in one of the deadliest crossing attempts in the Eastern Mediterranean. It was carrying over 150 Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese with a capacity for less than half that number. At least 100 of the passengers drowned – of which a fifth were children.
The boat set sail from Lebanon on Wednesday morning, but only four hours later the engine stopped working. Those on the boat called the smugglers and the Lebanese authorities for help but no one came. Soon the boat had become engulfed with waves and eventually capsized.
Survivors recall being in the water surrounded by bodies for hours; some were rescued by Syrian boats and others managed to swim to shore.
Some of the bodies have been brought back to Lebanon for funerals, while the rest remain in Syria awaiting DNA identification. Families are still awaiting to hear if their loved ones are among the deceased.
The scenes of mourners have been heart wrenching to watch, even more so as it's likely that some of them will also embark on an attempt to cross the Mediterranean despite this latest tragedy. The current situation in Lebanon is dire to say the least.
The World Bank has ranked Lebanon’s economic crisis among the top three worst financial crises in modern times. Several people have held up banks just to access their own savings, which have been frozen in the paralysed financial system. Power is also in short supply with households only getting a few hours a day and places like hospitals having to rely on unreliable generators.
The situation is even worse for refugees in Lebanon. Since the war in Syria, the tiny country has absorbed a million Syrian refugees, who have been received with hostility from the Lebanese government. Many of them are still without jobs and living in precarious refugee camps.
Before the influx of refugees from Syria, there were already half a million Palestinian refugees who have been in Lebanon for decades. These refugees were long discriminated against by the government, which included being deprived the right to own property and the right to work in a large number of professions. In this situation, coupled with the new financial and political crisis, it is no wonder that many refugees in Lebanon want to flee the country.