Lebanon’s civil defence workers have retrieved the bodies of three adults and a child from the Mediterranean Sea, Agence France Presse (AFP) has reported. They were believed to have been migrants who were attempting to reach Cyprus. One adult and the child were Lebanese citizens, while the other two adults were an Indian and a Syrian.
The bodies are believed to be from a boat which UN peacekeepers discovered in trouble in international waters off the coast of Lebanon last week. At the time, the UN officials recovered one body while rescuing the other 36 passengers. The boat was returned to Beirut.
Survivors said that they had been adrift in the Mediterranean for at least a week and that several passengers had either died or jumped overboard in an attempt to find help. One 20-year-old survivor told Al-Arabiya that his three-year-old son had died during the attempted crossing and that the family had opted to put the body into the sea because they did not have enough money for a burial on land.
Mohammed Sufian Mohammed, who described living conditions in Lebanon as “hellish”, later told the Dubai-based outlet that he and his wife, who is pregnant, are willing to attempt the crossing again.
The number of attempted crossings has increased sharply in recent months, reflecting growing desperation in crisis-hit Lebanon. Economic collapse, the coronavirus pandemic, rising poverty and the trauma of the 4 August explosion have pushed dozens of Lebanese to make for Cyprus.
According to the UNHCR, more attempts have been made from Lebanon to Cyprus in a recent 16-day period than in the whole of 2019. To date, there have been 22 recorded attempted crossings this year, with 18 made between 29 August and 14 September. Only 17 were recorded last year.
The UNHCR and UNICEF have called for the “root causes” of these migration patterns to be addressed. These causes include “poverty and lack of economic opportunities,” said UNICEF’s Lebanon representative Yukie Mokuo.
“[The UN agencies are re-doubling]… efforts to sensitise communities to the risks involved when embarking on such journeys,” explained Mireille Girard, the representative of the UNHCR in Lebanon. “We’re systematically attending to the individual needs of the survivors on arrival and after they have returned to their places of residence in Lebanon.”