Tragedy of people fleeing crisis-ridden Lebanon - GulfToday

Tragedy of people fleeing crisis-ridden Lebanon

A boat full of passengers sails towards a Syrian seaport.

The migrations are happening in the most distressing conditions, and people are choosing the most hazardous ways to cross over into Europe.

On Thursday 53 people died due to a boat capsize off the coast of Syria carrying between 120 to 150 people. The people on the boat were Lebanese, Syrians (there are a million Syrian refugees in Lebanon) and Palestinians (Palestinian refugees in Lebanon have been in the country for 40 years and more, living in refugee camps) fleeing Lebanon which is caught in an economic whirlpool, with no jobs, the Lebanese pound’s value reduced by 90 per cent compared to the dollar, and the banks closed due to people raiding banks to retrieve their own savings, a government paralysed by a political deadlock.

Most of those fleeing Lebanon want to reach Europe, and they have met with tragic end more often than not. A similar incident had taken place off Tripoli in April. The survivors of Thursday’s boat tragedy are in hospitals in Tartous in Syria. On Thursday, a boat carrying 55 people was rescued, according to Lebanese officials as the boat faced technical problem. Most of the people are fleeing from the northern Lebanon region, which is also the most impoverished part of the country.

Many Lebanese had migrated to the United States, Canada, and parts of Europe over the decades and there is a vibrant Lebanese diaspora. But this time round, the migrations are happening in the most distressing conditions, and people are choosing the most hazardous ways to cross over into Europe across the Mediterranean. The coastal guards in southern Europe have been very strict in turning away the illegal migrants. But the people, especially from Lebanon, are so desperate to get away that they have become reckless in their attempts to get away. It is a known fact that many people from north African coast of Libya have been trying to flee from their troubled country, and they have faced the same problems as did the Lebanese boat refugees.

European Union (EU) countries, including Germany, France, Netherlands have varying migration policies, and there is clarity about people fleeing their country to escape poverty and economic crisis. There is a certain leeway for people seeking political asylum, for those escaping persecution. But there is no recognition for economic refugees, for people escaping from countries facing economic collapse as in Lebanon or facing starvation as in drought-hit Somalia. Humanitarian aid from world bodies like the United Nations agencies do not cater to people suffering from economic distress.

The Lebanese are facing a harrowing situation in their country. The economy has nearly collapsed, the food, fuel, electricity prices have risen sharply, partially due to the war in Ukraine and shortage of wheat supply, there are no jobs, and the government is not able to find a way out and provide relief to the people. The people are left with no choice but to flee the country. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) do not seem to factor in the economic distress of the people, and they have no rescue packages, which allow assistance to cash-strapped people.

There is need for an emergency fund available to governments of countries facing economic troubles because when governments face an economic crisis, it is millions of people in cities, towns and villages who are affected. The governments should be able to borrow from global lending agencies to deal with people on the verge of economic collapse. The relief package that the IMF provides is mostly to avert debt and debt service repayments. The crisis is treated at the macroeconomic level. The plight of the common man and woman during an economic crisis is overlooked as though the people did not matter.

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