Boats of death: Killing borders and lost justice

February 06, 2023

On the Global Day of CommemorAction for the Dead, Missing and Forcefully Disappeared at Sea and the Borders, a group of civil society organisations reminds all of the tragic fates suffered by migrants and refugees attempting to leave Lebanon, and calls on Lebanese authorities and the international community to take action.

The Sixth of February was declared a Global Day of CommemorAction for the Dead, Missing, and Forcefully Disappeared at Sea and the Borders.

On this occasion, the below-mentioned local and international civil society organizations call upon all to remember the tragedies of those who have died and went missing while attempting to cross seas and borders all over the world, particularly undocumented migrants who have suffered tragic fates while trying to leave Lebanon during the past few years.

The number of undocumented migrants who decided to cross the sea has increased due to Lebanon’s deepening economic crisis, the difficult living conditions of the Lebanese and refugees, and the logistical and financial barriers to legal migration from Lebanon.

A 2022 UNICEF report found that 30% of youth (aged 15-24) halted their education to look for a job, while 41% of them felt that leaving Lebanon is the only chance they have to lead a better life.

Figures indicate that the number of Lebanese seeking to migrate has continually increased since the beginning of the economic crisis in 2019. According to UNHCR, sea departures from Lebanon have increased since 2020: 38 boats carrying more than 1500 passengers have left Lebanon, and more than 75% of them were turned back.

On April 23, 2022, a boat carrying around 84 people sank off the coast of Tripoli, Lebanon. The UN reported that the passengers were of Lebanese, Palestinian and Syrian nationalities, and included families with children and infants. The Lebanese Army announced that 45 passengers survived, seven bodies were recovered, including a 40-day-old baby, while the remaining passengers are still officially missing. A Pisces VI submarine began its search mission on August 22nd and, within two days, located the wreck at a depth of about 450 meters. They found the remains of at least 10 victims, while others remain missing.

On September 21, 2022, a boat carrying about 150 persons sank off Arwad Island, beside the coast of Tartus, Syria. The boat was heading towards Europe from North Lebanon. Search and rescue operations have confirmed that at least 70 people died. Reports indicate that 20 survivors, who successfully swam back to the shore, were transferred to a hospital in the city of Tartus, Syria. Among them was a Lebanese national who was then arrested by Syrian authorities and forcefully disappeared until he was handed over to Lebanese authorities on November 30, 2022.

On December 31, 2022, the Lebanese Army, in cooperation with UNIFIL, rescued more than 200 migrants after a boat carrying them sank off the Selaata area in Lebanon. Most of them are believed to be Syrians, and two bodies were reportedly recovered. After being rescued, most of them were illegally deported and handed over to the Syrian authorities.

Accordingly, the undersigned organizations urge the Lebanese authorities and international community to:

- Conduct independent, impartial, prompt, comprehensive, and effective investigations into the boat sinking off the city of Tripoli on April 23, 2022, and to recover the remains of all the missing passengers,

- Respect the principle of non-refoulement of refugees, and conduct an independent, impartial, prompt, and thorough investigation into the allegations of forced return of Syrian refugees, especially after being rescued from the boat that sank on December 31, 2022,

- Provide refugees with fast resettlement opportunities,

- Provide medical and psychological support to the rescued individuals,

- Organize awareness campaigns to citizens, residents, and refugees on the dangers of undocumented migration, and prosecute human trafficking networks,

- Look for safe and legal alternatives to prevent undocumented migration, support livelihoods and improve access to services in vulnerable communities,

- Provide freedom of movement and allow obtaining a Lebanese passport without delay, as stipulated in the Lebanese constitution and Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.


List of Signatories:

Access Center for Human Rights (ACHR), Active Lebanon (Norway), Alkarama Foundation, Cedar Centre for Legal Studies, EuroMed Rights, Helping Hands Foundation, MENA Rights Group, The Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH), The Lebanese Institute for Democracy and Human Rights (LIFE), Union of Muslim Jurists in Lebanon, Zaza Consulting

Latest News