In her house, plunged into darkness due to uninterrupted power cuts, in Bab al-Ramel, one of the most populous neighborhoods of Tripoli, Oum Moustapha Mesto mourns the death of her son and three of her grandchildren.
Of the entire family that took the boat that sank on Sept. 22 off the coast of Tartos, Syria, in an effort trying to illegally migrate, only the mother and one of the children survived.
Surrounded by women dressed in black and in tears, Oum Moustapha Mesto raises her arms to the sky, cursing the whole political class: “They push us and our children toward a sure death!”
Oum Moustapha Mesto can’t believe that her son, a 35-year-old cab driver, left. She said he was desperate, unable to cope with the big changes.
“He decided to sell everything he had to raise the $15,000 he had to pay the human traffickers in order to find a place on one of the death boats leaving Tripoli for Europe. He saw it as a lifeline, an opportunity to feed and educate his children,” she said.
The grieving mother said she tried to dissuade her son, but to no avail. She learned he left when she heard the news about the terrible shipwreck, she said. His aunt added that he was the victim of a trap set by a mafia that exploited his desperation.
The death toll from the sinking of a migrant boat off the coast of Syria on Sept. 22 rose to more than 100 on Sunday, according to the director of the Syrian port of Banias, Nawfaq Ibrahim.
The new death toll was announced after six more bodies were found and transferred to Al-Bassel Hospital in Tartus, according to our correspondent Michel Hallak.
According to sources within the Red Cross, 17 people who were aboard the boat are still missing. However, the secretary-general of the Lebanese Higher Relief Committee, Mohammad Kheir, said that the owner of the boat could not provide the exact number of passengers on board, which complicates the estimation of the number of missing persons.
According to some estimates, the number of people on board the makeshift boat was around 150.
At least 14 survivors are being treated in hospitals in Syria, while six others have been discharged. Two are still in the intensive care at Al-Bassel Hospital, the official Syrian news agency SANA reported Sunday.
Those on board were mostly Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians, and included children and elderly, the UN said. According to UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, 10 children were among the shipwrecked passengers.
On Saturday, the army announced the arrest of a man accused of being involved in the preparations for the departure of the boat of migrants.
‘We did not believe him’
In the Bab al-Tabbaneh neighborhood, one of the poorest in Lebanon, lives Wissam al-Tellaoui, a survivor of the tragedy that appears to have taken away his entire family: his wife and two of his children are among the missing passengers, and his two daughters, May and Maya, perished in the shipwreck. Their bodies have already been repatriated to Lebanon and buried in their hometown in Akkar. Tellaoui himself is still in Al-Bassel Hospital in Tartus.
In the survivor’s home, a makeshift building surrounded by other dilapidated buildings, Abdallah, Wissam’s brother, mourns the death of his nephews.
“Wissam works in a cleaning company, his salary has been reduced to $25. He warned us that he was going to try to immigrate illegally with his family, but we did not believe him. He could no longer feed his children or enroll them in school,” he said.
The news of shipwrecks does not seem to dissuade other distressed inhabitants from following this same path. Rabih is a neighbor of Wissam; he thinks that all the inhabitants of these neighborhoods, which have been abandoned to their sad fate, dream of taking the boat, despite all the dangers.
“The departures from Tripoli are almost daily, every day I wake up to the news of the disappearance of my acquaintances,” he said. According to him, young people between the age of 20 and 40 years old are terrified of being used as cannon fodder in new rounds of violence in the city, and so seek to leave in anticipation of potential unrest.
According to lawyer and activist Mohammad Sablouh, poverty is the main reason behind these high-risk departures. The initiatives of non-governmental organizations are no longer enough, and the state agencies need to take urgent and coordinated development action, he added.
This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour. Translation by Joelle El Khoury.
In her house, plunged into darkness due to uninterrupted power cuts, in Bab al-Ramel, one of the most populous neighborhoods of Tripoli, Oum Moustapha Mesto mourns the death of her son and three of her grandchildren.Of the entire family that took the boat that sank on Sept. 22 off the coast of Tartos, Syria, in an effort trying to illegally migrate, only the mother and one of the children...