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The New Arab

Palestinians who left Lebanon and 'vanished into the sea'

Hundreds of people have died trying to make the dangerous sea journey to Europe [Getty]

Date of publication: 22 May, 2018

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Desperate for a better life, Palestinian refugees from Lebanon have vanished on the perilous journey on sea to find a better life in Europe.
Many roads are blocked for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Even those with university degrees are unable to find work and are banned from entering multiple professions, and as a result endure poverty and hunger.  

Many Palestinians therefore decided to embark on the risky journey to Europe on smugglers boats, but some never made it to their destination, vanishing on the perilous route.

Alaa Ibrahim Hamoudi, 28 years old, a Palestinian originally from the village of Ras al-Ahmar, was living in the Ein al-Hilweh camp in Saida, South Lebanon, until he left for Europe via Libya in November 2017.

He remained in Libya until January when he was due to leave on a boat, but since then Hamoudi's family has heard no news of his whereabouts.

In the family house in an alley of Ein el-Hilweh refugee camp, grief is seen on the faces of the family.

"My brother Alaa graduated from a university in Lebanon but spent five years without work," he said.

"During this period he sometimes worked sporadically at NGOs for a small fee and sometimes as a volunteer. But when the term of the contract expires, he was left without work so had to take jobs in construction so that he can live. He despaired the situation that prevents Palestinians from working in their field of expertise, and he had the idea of emigrating to Europe to escape frustration," Alaa's brother added. 

He despaired the situation that prevents Palestinians from working in their field of expertise, and he had the idea of emigrating to Europe to escape frustration

"He was unable to raise the cost for a safe route, which would have been $11,000 while the more dangerous route costs $4,500." 

Alaa was meant to go to Libya via Egypt, but got stuck in Libya for about two months after the immigration broker abandoned them, family members explained. 

Read also: Tortured, disappeared, displaced: Libyans in the hands of smugglers

"Finally on Tuesday, January 16 my brother told he was heading to the boat to leave. He said he would call me when he arrived safe, but it was the last call between us. I tried to call the broker whose number my brother had sent, and he said that the boat needed more time to reach an Italian rescue ship. On the second day I tried to call the broker again but there was no answer."

The family said there was no news of a sinking boat in that period, "So, how can a boat carrying 30 people vanish?" they questioned. 

The family said there was no news of a sinking boat in that period, 'So, how can a boat carrying 30 people vanish?' they questioned

"We heard that my brother maybe in a prison inside Libya, but we could not be sure. We continued searching prisons through relatives in Libya, but there was no news. We could not be sure whether he was alive or dead," Alaa's brother said.

Alaa is not the only Palestinian from the camp who has disappeared searching for a better life. In the same neighbourhood is the family of Mohammed Ghassan Saada, 35, who vanished four months ago with his wife and one-year-old son on the way to Europe.   

Like Alaa, Mohammed chose the least expensive route to Europe but never arrived.

Mohammed's brother Ashraf continues to wait for news that may bring some reassurance.

"My brother was not in a great physical situation, he had a problem in his foot which prevented him from exhausting construction work. He sold his furniture and borrowed money from relatives to go to Libya to leave for Europe in search of a decent and dignified life for him, his wife and his child," Ashraf said. 

"However he ran out of money in Libya and we couldn't send him any due to the difficult situation. The last thing we heard from someone in Libya is that he was going on the boat with a number of other people including his wife and child."

Yet the family have not been seen since.

Munther Ahmed Daoud and his cousin Wassim Abdullah Farghawi, were reportedly the first two Palestinians in Lebanon to escape to Europe by sea.

They left the Nahr al-Bared camp in north Lebanon in 2003. Since then the cousins vanished en route and neither of their bodies or a shipwreck was found. Munther's mother is still waiting for news about her son, but the mother of Wassim has since passed away, with many saying her death was due to grief for her son.  

At the start of 2018, over 8,000 people arrived via the Mediterranean to Europe, an 11 percent increase compared to the same month in 2017, according to figures from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. More than 400 people have been killed so far, trying to make the dangerous sea journey. 

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