“Bodies Everywhere”: Survivors Recount Boat Disaster in Lebanon | Migration News

Speaking from a hospital bed, still in shock, Ibrahim Mansour, one of 20 survivors of one of the eastern Mediterranean’s deadliest maritime disasters, says he cannot forgive for not saving others.

More than 150 people were on board the small boat which left crisis-ridden Lebanon on Wednesday morning, hoping to reach Italy for a better life.

Those on board were mostly Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians, and included both children and the elderly, according to the United Nations.

Four hours after the boat left, the engine stopped. Mansour, 29, told Al Jazeera that those on board called the smuggler ashore, but he said: “If you come back, we will shoot you.

“We also called 112 to ask for help from the Lebanese authorities, but no help came.”

Due to high waves, the boat lost control and capsized off the Syrian port of Tartous, about 50 km (30 miles) north of Tripoli in Lebanon. Within moments, 100 people died, Mansour said. He saw “bodies everywhere”.

Those who survived clung to the overturned boat.

“I cry all the time; I am in shock. I saw horrible bodies and pictures. My heart, my heart,” Mansour said. “I tried to help children and another man ;I tried to keep their spirits alive, but I couldn’t. It hurts me, especially because of the child who held me down before I lost him. They told me that he was dead.

Mansour finally swam to the Syrian shore, reaching the coast on Thursday evening.

Syrian state media reported that 97 people died, 20 people were rescued and others are still missing.

Among the dead are 24 children and 31 women, according to Lebanese Transport Minister Ali Hamie.

In a statement released on Sunday, the secretary general of Lebanon’s Higher Relief Commission, Mohammad Khair, said five Lebanese and eight Palestinians, who were on board the boat, are still being treated at al-Basel hospital in the city. Syrian from Tartous and will soon return to Lebanon.

The Lebanese army said it arrested a man it said was behind the “smuggling operation” to Italy.

Another young man, who survived what he calls “a nightmare”, told Al Jazeera his story from an ambulance as he returned from Syria to Lebanon: “It is impossible to forget what happened. happened and the scenes I experienced.

When the boat capsized, “those on board were pushed by the waves in all directions, left and right, under and over the water. No one came to rescue us,” he said.

“I stayed almost 24 hours near the boat, which overturned, floating; it had not sunk. I managed to stay above the boat and then swam for 13 hours until I reached the Syrian coast of Tartous. I was told that some survivors had been rescued and rescued by Russian and Syrian boats, but I saw nothing until I reached the shore,” he said.

“The situation is reaching a desperate level”

The disaster highlights the crippling poverty and growing desperation that has forced many in Lebanon, including Mansour, to attempt the perilous crossing of the Mediterranean, hoping to reach Europe.

Lebanon, a country that hosts more than a million refugees from the Syrian war, has since 2019 been mired in a financial crisis described by the World Bank as one of the worst in modern times.

Since 2020, Lebanon has seen an increase in the number of Lebanese citizens, who have joined Palestinian and Syrian refugees in attempting dangerous boat trips in search of a better life.

Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from Tripoli, said that “according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), around 3,500 people have attempted to make the journey this year alone, but security sources say it’s a conservative number.”

Many on the boat were Palestinian refugees who, since the Nakba in 1948 (when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were ethnically cleansed from their homes by Zionist militias), have been living across Lebanon in overcrowded makeshift camps devoid of basic infrastructure. Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon do not have basic rights; they are denied citizenship and have no access to health care or education.

Tamara Alrifai, spokeswoman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), told Al Jazeera that there were around 25 to 30 Palestinian refugees on the capsized boat. Most of them came from the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp, “a camp that was largely destroyed about 15 years ago during one of the waves of violence in Lebanon”.

“The situation of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is reaching such a desperate level that they are ready to risk their lives along these perilous roads if there is hope on the other side,” Alrifai said. “The other side always looks better than what many of them describe as hell.”

“[Palestinian refugees in Lebanon [are] marginalized, deprived of their rights, banned from property, banned from professions. Lebanon’s economic and financial collapse, especially in the past year, has hit the most vulnerable first [including Palestinian refugees].”

Alrifai said that among the group of Palestinian migrants, two of them were UNRWA schoolchildren.

“These are people we know, these are young people who go to school, who have an education, who wanted to go to the other side, and seek a better life for themselves and for their children. It is truly tragic and my colleagues at UNRWA are horrified by the news.

“Nobody wants to be a refugee. No one wants to live such a humiliating life as Palestinian refugees live in many of these camps,” Alrifai said.

Khodr, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in northern Lebanon, said many families are still waiting to receive the bodies of their loved ones.

“Some have been identified and brought back for burial,” she said. “Others are still in Syria awaiting DNA test results. Until they are received, it will not be known how many or who are still missing at sea.”

« Lebanese and Palestinian refugees [survivors] arrive home, but the Syrian refugees have not returned. Neither do their bodies. Their families who escaped the regime of President Bashar al-Assad will be afraid to cross the border to identify their relatives.