“I got into the death boat because I’ve been unemployed for 5 years. I want to get married but I can’t because I’m without a job. I didn’t find any other option”.

[After the boat capsized] I stayed in the territorial waters between Lebanon and Syria for 46 hours. All the time thinking and imagining my mother.  I lost hope.

Yes, I escaped death but I went straight back to the big prison where I was born. I went back to Nahr El Barid again. I always saw the camp as a cemetery of dreams.”   – Ibrahim Mansour of Nahr El Barid Refugee Camp, one of few survivors of a migrant boat tragedy

MALAKA ABOU SHOUKAIR SHOWING HER FAVORITE PHOTO OF HER SON, RAWAD, WHO DIED AT SEA IN A DEADLY SHIPWRECK OFF THE SYRIAN COAST. (PHOTO: AMENA AL-ASHKAR)

In late September, a small boat headed to Italy carrying over 120 migrants from Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine perished off the coast of Syria. While a fortunate few survived, around 100 corpses have since been recovered including 24 children. Many bodies are still unaccounted for.  For those recovered, some were so unrecognizable that they had to use DNA testing to confirm their identities.  So far, it is estimated that more than 30 of victims were from Nahr El Barid Refugee Camp in the north of Lebanon, while 3 were from Shatila.

Each day following the tragedy brought more news of the dead and more funerals for those living in Nahr El Barid and Shatila camps.  Needless to say, life in the camps has been quite depressing.

Losing hope in returning to Palestine combined with the current economic and political crises in Lebanon have hugely impacted Palestinian refugees living in Nahr El Barid and led them to dream of better lives abroad.  Many families have sold their homes and chosen to gamble on merciless and greedy smugglers to help them find passage across the Mediterranean Sea to a new home in Europe.

Migrant smugglers often pack more than 160 individuals from Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon onto these “death boats” along with dozens of gallons of drinking water and fuel. During the Autumn, the sea becomes rougher and the boats become more unsteady. Consequently, a quick death waits for those migrants – tragedies reminiscent of the Titanic disaster.

One of twelve Palestinian refugee camps across Lebanon, Nahr El Barid is home to over 27,000 Palestinian refugees. Like the infamous Shatila Refugee Camp, Nahr El Barid is no stranger to catastrophe.  In May 2007, a militant group waged war with the Lebanese Army and Nahr El Barid became the center of the conflict. By the end of it, over 95% of the camp was destroyed.  Though most inhabitants were evacuated to nearby camps, many lives were lost. Since September 2007, Lebanese authorities have exercised full control of Nahr El Barid unlike all other refugee camps in Lebanon which are managed by UNWRA.

Jihad Al-Manea, a relative of Mustafa Al-Manea, who perished in the death boat, says:

“He sold his house in the camp to have money, but the intent was not to go for a family vacation. He dreamed of enrolling his children in school and feeding them with dignity.”

Here’s what Ali Taha, Director of Al Jalil Association, has to say:

“What drives Palestinian youths and families to choose illegal immigration and expose themselves to risks, whether by land or sea, is the difficult economic conditions that Palestinian refugees experience in the camps. It is the difficulties  of poverty, unemployment, the absence of security, and a lack of political representation for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon that drive people to take this risk.”