- Sam Colvett
Nearly 100 Migrants Die on Journey from Lebanon to Europe
By Sam Colvett
On 22 September, 2022, a boat carrying migrants to Europe from Lebanon sank off the coast of Syria near the port of Tartarus, 30 miles north of Tripoli. As of Saturday, 24 September, 94 people had been reported dead and several more were significantly injured or missing. The boat had departed from the Minyeh region of Lebanon days before, carrying at least 150 Lebanese, Syrian, and Palestinian nationals on board, many of which were children or elderly.
"The large Syrian population within Lebanon has been especially harmed by the economic crisis, potentially explaining why Syrian nationals were also aboard"
Emigration has increased from Lebanon in recent years due to the country’s intense economic crisis. According to information reported by the Guardian, “the number of people who left or tried to leave Lebanon by sea nearly doubled between 2020 and 2021” and “the figure rose again by more than 70% in 2022.” The World Bank assesses that rapid inflation, surpassed only by Sudan and Venezuela, is harming middle- and low-income individuals within Lebanon, which were already struggling pre-crisis due to extreme economic inequality within the country.
After Lebanon’s civil war in the 1990’s, the country structured its economy in a way that “thrived on large capital inflows and international support,” promising reforms in return. Nevertheless, the World Bank asserts that elites within the country captured the economy and have been personally benefiting from its rents for years. This corruption has put special strains on the most vulnerable sectors of the population, especially affecting food prices.
The large Syrian population within Lebanon has been especially harmed by the economic crisis, potentially explaining why Syrian nationals were also aboard the Europe-bound boat that sank in September. The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) estimates that nine out of ten Syrian refugees in Lebanon live in extreme poverty, with many individuals lacking valid legal residency that allows them access to social services.
The World Bank is encouraging Lebanon to create and implement a national reform strategy that would stabilize their exchange rate, restructure their debt, improve their banking sector, adjust fiscal policy, and establish a more robust social protection system.
Meanwhile, the UNHCR and the United Nations are calling upon countries to address the increasingly worrisome issue of deaths along migrant journeys. They find that that there were 3,231 (migrants) dead or missing at sea last year, a sharp rise from 2020 after a brief fall due to COVID-19 in the years prior.
IOM Director General António Vitorino stated that those seeking protection “should not be compelled to take such perilous and often deadly migration journeys” and joined with the UNHCR and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) to call for increased safety measures along common migrant routes.
UNHCR Spokesperson Shabia Mantoo announced in April that UNHCR had developed a new protection plan for migrant journeys along with a call for increased funding. Their focus is to “enhance legal frameworks and operational capacities at land and sea borders and in urban centres, and to ensure credible alternatives to dangerous journeys through inclusion, and strengthened youth programming and local community-based development.”
With more migrants risking perilous journeys, international action is necessary to provide protection to those seeking it.