A refugee story: Horror in the middle of the sea … and on the mainland

A refugee story: Horror in the middle of the sea … and on the mainland
* Palestinian Journalist 

He agreed to talk about his experience on condition that his name would not be mentioned, as what he did must be forgotten; Mohammad (a pseudonym) said that he suffered from bouts of depression before making the decision to travel illegally. The living conditions worsened and “I could no longer afford to buy milk for my children, while I did not have any source of income after my employer in the wood factory where I worked dismissed the majority of workers. I waited over three months in the hope that conditions would improve, but the coronavirus crisis continued and consequently the factory did not need us anymore because work had almost stopped.”

Mohammad learnt from his relatives that a broker named Abu Ahmad offers illegal migration services to anyone who wishes to do so, for two thousand dollars.  “I had to sell all my wife’s gold jewelry which was worth nearly five hundred dollars,” he said. and I borrowed the rest from friends and relatives. I also asked my brother who lives in Australia to transfer a thousand dollars to me. Indeed, he sent me the sum with a traveler coming from Sydney.”

Mohammad paid the broker part of the sum and registered his name. A few days later, he boarded a black rubber boat, and before it sailed, he paid the remaining amount. He said, “The boat can only accommodate ten people whereas the passengers numbered 35 people, including women and children of different nationalities. Three boats were going to depart at the same time.” No one gave them any advice and they only received partially inflated orange jackets. He explained, “The captain refused to have any bags or food on board. Everyone agreed, hoping to arrive as soon as possible on the shores of the Greek part of Cyprus.” The clear sky encouraged the three boats to go faster, but we suddenly heard screams coming from the front boat. We could not do anything. The boat sank for unknown reasons. We were afraid that the same would happen to us. We tried to help them, especially because some of those who drowned could not swim. The scene was tearful, and whenever I remember it I cry, especially about children.”

Mohammad added saying, “After hours of being stuck at sea, boats of the Cypriot coast guard arrived and tried to rescue us and look for survivors. We all lost hope. The police took us to a large ship where we were given first aid and some food before we were repatriated to Lebanon. When we arrived, we learned that they had found corpses in the sea facing Sarafand and Khaldeh. It was a terrifying journey. I am willing to repeat it, but in the air or on land, not in the sea.”

Mohammad holds the Lebanese state responsible, because, in his opinion, it does not care about citizens. It is only shattering young people’s dreams by not offering them job opportunities or health insurance. He believes that “the whole population will migrate legally and illegally if they manage to so, because in this country there is no more sympathy for the poor. I have witnessed death at sea, but it is easier to experience it every day in my country.”