BEIRUT, 18 September 2020 – UNHCR Lebanon, the Refugee Agency, and UNICEF are deeply concerned by the spike in self-organized movements by boats to Cyprus in recent weeks and distraught by the deaths and dangerous situations that many vulnerable men, women and children are put into as they desperately search for means of survival.
On 14 September, the UNIFIL Maritime Task Force rescued a boat off the coast of Lebanon with 37 individuals on board, including 12 children. Several passengers had passed away during the 7-day journey at sea under the scorching sun, including children and one woman. When the boat finally reached Beirut several of the other passengers were in a critical condition and had to be rushed to hospital.
This incident is a tragic reminder of the desperation that an increasing number of people in Lebanon are feeling as they see no way of survival.
The impact of the deep economic and financial crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, and most recently the Beirut blast are pushing many to the brink.
"In desperate situations, whether in search of safety, protection, or basic survival, people will move, whatever the danger. Addressing the reasons of these desperate journeys and the swift collective rescue of people distressed at sea are key." said Mireille Girard, UNHCR representative in Lebanon.
Immediate life-saving care, medical assistance and psychological first aid was collectively provided by UNIFIL, the Lebanese Red Cross, UNHCR, UNICEF and the Lebanese authorities to the deeply distressed passengers. Search and rescue efforts continued to find other passengers from the boat who went missing at sea during the journey.
"As we re-double our efforts to sensitize communities to the risks involved when embarking on such journeys, we're systematically attending to the individual needs of the survivors on arrival and after they returned to their places of residence in Lebanon", said Girard.
"UNICEF is extremely concerned about the risks that children are facing when migrating in such conditions, said Yukie Mokuo, UNICEF Lebanon Representative. "We remain committed to support Lebanon to ensure the children's wellbeing at all times and tackle the root causes of migration, including poverty and lack of economic opportunities. Until these root causes are addressed in a meaningful way over the long term, families and children will continue to leave their homes in search of a more hopeful future, even via irregular migration routes.
21 onward movements to Cyprus, of mainly Syrians, but also Lebanese and migrant workers were reported in the course of the period July-14 September. These crossings mainly take place during August to November, before the winter storms begin.
UNHCR globally advocates for safe disembarkation of people in distress at sea.