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Lebanese officials urge Europe to help stranded migrants

Lebanese officials urge European states to help stranded ship in the Mediterranean sea
3 min read
05 September, 2022
A Lebanese MP said that a third vessel carrying migrants was still stranded at sea, its location unknown.
The migrants are the latest in a steady stream trying to escape Lebanon's desperate economic crisis. [Getty]

Lebanese officials have called for assistance for at least 60 migrants coming from Lebanon stranded in the Mediterranean since Sunday afternoon.

"We appeal to Italy … to take the initiative to rescue 70 Lebanese migrants stuck in their primitive and broken boat off the Maltese and Italian coasts," Lebanese MP Ashraf Rifi said on Sunday.

Rifi told The New Arab on Monday afternoon that there were three vessels, two of which had been rescued by the Maltese navy, while the third had yet to be found. Whether or not the migrants would be allowed to stay in Malta or returned to Lebanon was unclear.

The ship, which left Lebanon ten days ago according to the migrant watch group Alarm Phone, was stranded in Maltese waters before drifting into Greek waters on Monday afternoon.

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At least one of the vessels was in distress and passengers had no food and water, Alarm Phone said. The group added that passengers on the ship said that the vessel was being monitored by other ships but had yet to be assisted.

The vessels are the latest of a stream originating from Lebanon. The country's economic crisis, dubbed one of the world's worst since the 1850s, has driven a steady wave of emigration since 2019.

Over two-thirds of the country's population has been thrust into poverty, and the price of basic goods skyrocketed as hyperinflation continues. Basic services like healthcare and electricity have deteriorated, with chronic medicine shortages and only about an hour of power being supplied a day.  

Lebanese, as well as Palestinian and Syrian refugees, make the perilous journey to neighbouring Cyprus, Greece or Italy on overloaded or ill-constructed boats. The result is often deadly, as was the case in April when a boat with 80 migrants sank after colliding with a Lebanese Navy boat.

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"When they get to a point where they throw themselves into the sea like this, they have explored all options. These people know they are risking their lives and the lives of their loved ones when they do this," Najat Aoun, a Lebanese MP, told The New Arab.

"I call for a humanitarian reconciliation, and complete control of all borders so this doesn’t happen. But before that, we need to provide people with the minimum basics for living," Aoun said.

The Lebanese authorities regularly arrest migrants before they can leave Lebanese territorial waters.

Cyprus, the destination for many Lebanese migrants, has conducted multiple pushback operations without allowing migrants to apply for asylum – a right guaranteed under international law.

Cyprus and Lebanon reaffirmed a controversial bilateral agreement in 2020 which allows Cyprus to return migrants to Lebanon. Human rights organisations have criticized the agreement for depriving asylum seekers of the right to present their applications in their country of origin.