Lebanon, the “Switzerland of the Middle East” and once an exotic legend that has fascinated the world from end to end, is now mired in the worst economic crisis its citizens have faced in decades. A collapse which, day after day, pushes not only the Palestinian and Syrian refugees living in the country – since the complicated situations in their countries of origin have forced them to flee to Lebanese territory – but also the Lebanese citizens themselves, to join a growing wave of migration.
According to data published by the United Nations, which states that 8 out of 10 Lebanese live below the poverty line, in 2020 more than 1,500 Lebanese – Palestinians or Syrians – tried to leave the country in precarious boats. But about 75% of these migrants were intercepted by the authorities or brought ashore. And since then, the situation has only gotten worse, with the number of illegal boats seeking the Cypriot coast climbing alarmingly.
“I can’t feed my family. My salary is barely enough for a few weeks (…) and seeing one of my sons wandering around the neighborhood diving into the dumps, looking for cans and plastic to resell, breaks my head . heart”, is the testimony of Abu Abdullah, a delivery man from Tripoli, to the Arab News. One testimony among hundreds, highlighting the social consequences of a hyperinflation that exceeds double digits, a currency devaluation of more than 90% since 2019, and the repercussions of the Covid-19 crisis, the explosion of the port of Beirut and the Russian-Ukrainian war.
“I would rather risk my life at sea than listen to the cries of my children when they are hungry”, Abdullah concluded. Also due to the economic collapse, the astronomical sums demanded by smugglers to get people out of the country by air (via three different airports before entering European territory) are leading more and more people to risk their life in precarious boats supposed to be used to cross the Mediterranean Sea.
However, according to analysts consulted by Arab News, the rate of illegal migration is currently falling due to rising fees for smugglers, which would put even dangerous sea routes beyond the financial reach of many Lebanese. This is something with which not all specialists agree, who, in addition to maintaining that migratory flows have continued to grow, alerting in particular to the exodus of young educated Lebanesewhich are the key to the future recovery of the country.
This situation is even more complicated for the millions of refugees from Syria and Palestine., who for years have been treated like second-class citizens. In addition to having suffered, in many cases, many displacements, these groups had little access to the right to own housing or property, to exercise liberal professions or to exercise many social or political rights.
In search of the “Vessel of Death”
In this scenario, the sinking of a boat carrying 84 migrants – mostly Lebanese, but also Palestinians and Syrians – on April 23 has become an event of international significance. If the rescue teams were able to save the lives of around 45 people and recover at least ten bodies in the days following the tragedy, the disappearance of at least 33 passengers more than four months after the sinking has sparked solidarity from AusReliefan Australian NGO chaired by Tom Zreika, a Lebanese expatriate who coordinates the “Children of Lebanon” initiative.
The remains of the disappeared, recovered to give the families the possibility of giving them “a dignified burial”, as well as objects of interest for the development of the investigation, will be collected by the Pisces VI submarine (who sailed from the Spanish island of Tenerife) in an operation that was funded by donations from dozens of Lebanese expatriates, private organizations and many other people, and who will coordinate the work of the Lebanese army and the crew of the submersible.
To this day, we still do not know if the reason for the sinking was an overload of the “Ship of Death” – as it was baptized – or if it was deliberately rammed by the Lebanese Navy during a rescue operation. night. This version is supported by several of the survivors of the sinking.
However, the tragedy of the “Ship of Death” does not seem to have convinced the hundreds of migrants who continue to risk their lives every day to reach European shores. Witness the departure of three fishing boats – according to sources – poorly equipped with around 200 migrants, which left the Lebanese coast this weekend.
Farewell to the symbol of the Beirut explosion
Meanwhile, the port of Beirut, scene of one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history, witnessed Tuesday the total collapse of the north side of the silos. Symbolic of the accident that occurred in 2020 and which cost the lives of more than 200 people, causing more than 6,500 injuries and a lot of destruction in the Lebanese capital.
VIDEO: 🇱🇧 New silos collapse in blast ravaged #Beirut Port
Eight more grain silos collapsed on Tuesday after succumbing to damage from the devastating 2020 blast – the third major collapse in a month pic.twitter.com/Yab472dEX5
— AFP news agency (@AFP) August 23, 2022
Throughout the summer months, what was once the largest grain storage facility in the country suffered major partial collapses due to a continuous fire from the fermentation of wheat and corn trapped inside. And on Tuesday, the ruins on the north side finally collapsed, reducing the chances of hundreds of relatives of the victims finding new evidence for an investigation – aimed at determining responsibility – marred by continual stalemates and political and legal obstacles.
An endemic and unbridled crisis
Since 2020, when the Lebanese crisis that started a year earlier worsened, the country’s currency lost almost 95% of its value, the percentage of citizens living below the poverty line rose to 80% and the population faces shortages of electricity and water, as well as shortages of the most basic goods.
The bread crisis in Lebanon is caused by several things: the quantity of wheat is said to be limited bc: the bakeries demand not enough wheat and flour – 80% of the wheat comes from Ukraine and Russia 2. No wheat storage capacity since the explosion in Beirut has damaged the silos BUT the reality is far from just that pic.twitter.com/yFjk1Gvn81
— Dalal Mawad دلال معوض (@dalalmawad) July 29, 2022
The outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war did not improve the situation either. The small Mediterranean country imported more than 60% of its cereal needs from the European country, and after the destruction of silos in the port of Beirut and the interruption of Ukrainian supplies, Lebanon barely manages to finance subsidies for pita bread, which it had to ration. And, for the future, the political paralysis and growing internal and external obstacles do not seem to bode well for the economic and social situation of Lebanese citizens.