BEIRUT: When two of his friends died after the huge blast at Beirut Port in early August, Beydoun, who preferred to not include his first name, felt he had no choice but to look for an escape route.
“Beirut, it’s a big grave. We are waiting for our time,” Beydoun told The Daily Star.
Beydoun said he had limited options to emigrate. So, when he heard through a friend that he could take a boat to Cyprus via traffickers in Tripoli, he jumped at the opportunity.
However, the details were murky -- all he was told about the trip was that it would be short and cost $1,500.
In the end, Beydoun backed out of the trip after growing concerned that the boat would be overcrowded and dangerous. “After a few days I came to my senses; either way I’m going to die so let me die here,” Beydoun said bleakly.
However, in the last two weeks dozens of desperate people have taken the often-dangerous trip to Cyprus. UNIFIL rescued a boat on Sept. 14 that had been at sea for days, with one of the 37 passengers on board the boat dead. AFP later interviewed some of the passengers and found that three more people had died, including two children.
Passengers on the boat told AFP that they paid 5 million Lebanese pounds for the voyage. Other people who had separately tried to get from Tripoli to Cyprus told AFP that they had collected money among themselves to buy a boat so they could attempt the trip without traffickers.
In response to the increase in boats making the trip, Cyprus has sent a team to Lebanon, and a security source told The Daily Star that there would in an increase in navy patrols along the Tripoli-Akkar coastline.
Lisa Abou Khaled, who works at the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, told The Daily Star that some of the people taking the voyage mentioned the blast at Beirut Port as a reason, but most were motivated by wanting to escape poverty.
Poverty has increased dramatically as Lebanon experiences its worst economic crisis in decades. Unemployment is over 30 percent and the local currency has lost some 80 percent of its value, increasing the cost of everyday essentials in the local currency.
Some Lebanese citizens have taken the perilous trip, but the majority of the passengers in recent weeks have been Syrian refugees. The current economic vulnerability of Syrian refugees in Lebanon is unprecedented, according to Khaled. She said that even before the coronavirus lockdown and the huge blast at Beirut Port the support of organizations like the UNHCR and NGOs has not been enough to keep living conditions from worsening among refugees.
Khaled said a recent UNHCR study found that the percentage of Syrians living in extreme poverty -- under $2.9 a day -- has risen to 75 percent, and even more Syrians are currently expected to currently be trapped in poverty. Khaled added that the economic crisis was also a key reason for Lebanese trying to escape to Cyprus. A study, by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia found that as of May 2020 the poverty rate in Lebanon has doubled to over 50 percent of the population.
For Beydoun, financial stress is also a reason why he is desperate to leave. When he began working 10 years ago, he was forced to take four jobs to make ends meet. Having become relatively comfortable until this year, he is now working four jobs again and is 12 months behind on his mortgage payments. “It's history repeating itself ... I’m barely eating and drinking,” Beydoun said.