09/19/2020, 13.53
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Fleeing by the sea: mother throws her dead son into the water during crossing

by Pierre Balanian

A ship with some 50 Lebanese migrants drifted in the Mediterranean waters for seven days without food, water or baggage. Since July, human traffickers have been exploiting a new sea route to reach Europe (Cyprus), charging a thousand dollars per person per trip. Due to the tragic state of Lebanon’s economy, almost everyone wants to emigrate, starting the country’s fourth mass exodus.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Beginning in mid-July, Lebanese migrants have been taking an escape route, by sea, towards a better life. However, the odyssey of illegal migration has been marked by a new tragedy not far from the Lebanese coast.

Tripoli is Lebanon’s second largest city and one of its poorest and most forgotten places. Here smuggling and human trafficking was an open secret, and until recently small-scale.

On 7 September, about 50 people boarded a boat that left Al Miniyeh, a town about 10 km north of Tripoli. They happily dreamt of a better future in Europe, about 189 km away, in Cyprus. Each passenger paid a thousand US dollars, a small fortune for such a short trip for citizens of a country in crisis where the average wage, for those who have a job, is 100 dollars a month.

During the crossing, the smuggler lost his bearings and the boat found itself in the high seas somewhere between the Cypriot and Turkish coasts. They run out of fuel and the passengers who had planned a short journey begin to suffer from hunger, thirst and dehydration due to the scorching sun and the stifling heat of the eastern Mediterranean.

Out of the 50 who left, 14 died, including a child on 10 September. The mother, Zeinab Al Qak (pictured, left) held his body in her arms for two days. She then decided to do the impossible. In front of her 10-year-old daughter (pictured right), who survived, she gave her son’s body to the sea. Her final words were "Let your last rest be here" before breaking down in fits of tears and hysteria.

After seven days of slow agony at sea, surrounded by the sky, sun, water and stars, thirsty and hungry, the escapees were rescued by a UNIFIL[*] naval vessel. Twelve children were on board, including the little sister - still in shock - of the child thrown into the sea.

Taken to the devastated port of Beirut, they were rushed to hospital. Survivors included residents from Bebnine, Akkar governorate, on Lebanon’s northern border with Syria.

On land, they began talking about the illegal human trafficking network in which they were involved, mentioning the names of two smugglers, both from Bebnine, Burhan Qatarib and his son-in-law Ahmad Safwan who had struck a deal with the migrants wanted to escape from hunger in Lebanon, only to find death from hunger and thirst at sea.

Leaving without luggage, the organisers had promised the migrants that they would join them in the high seas with their things as well as food, plus milk for the children. But with the boat lost in the waters of the Mediterranean, the migrants got nothing.

A warrant has been issued for the arrest of the two traffickers, who are now fugitives. A source, who wished to remain anonymous, told AsiaNews, that Turkey is behind this new illegal migration from Lebanon to Europe.

Yesterday morning the Lebanese coast guard recovered the body of one of the migrants, found near the coast of Saadiyat, south of Beirut, in Chouf district.

One of the survivors of this tragedy, Mohammad Sefian Mohammad, also lost a son who died of thirst and hunger despite his father’s attempt to save him by getting him to drink sea water.

Outgoing Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab instructed his outgoing Foreign Minister Charbel Wehbe to liaise with Cypriot authorities to coordinate joint action to counter this nascent trend.

The outgoing government has decided to help the families of the victims. The concern is great because almost every Lebanese wants to emigrate, to flee Lebanon, where life has become impossible. For all intents and purposes, Lebanon’s fourth mass migration is underway.

The first one, that of the Maronites, began in the wake of the massacres of 1880 (Druze-Maronite war). The second wave took place in the early 20th century until 1920, when the country emptied itself, especially during the years of the famine caused by the Ottoman Turks, with many emigrating to Brazil and the United States. The third wave occurred during the civil war (1975-1990). Now the fourth has just begun.

Lebanon is one of the few countries in the world, together with Armenia, Israel, Italy and Spain, to have a diaspora that exceeds the number of people at home.

In Lebanon, carrying out a census is a taboo, to avoid jeopardising the subtle balance between the various ethno-religious communities.

Lebanon’s population is estimated to be around four million, but more than seven million Lebanese or people of Lebanese descent live scattered around the world.

In order to help the people of Beirut and Lebanon, as well as Caritas Lebanon, AsiaNews has launched a campaign to ‘Help devastated Beirut’. Those who want to contribute can make a donation to:

PIME Foundation:

- International Bank Account Number (IBAN): IT78C0306909606100000169898

- Bank Identifier Code (BIC): BCITITMM

- Reason for transfer: AN04 – HELP DEVASTATED BEIRUT

[*] United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon.

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