Take us to Germany
“Here we have no respect and we are not allowed to work. I am taking my family to Germany.” Mohammed’s daughter peered out from behind her father’s motorbike; he spoke like he had made up his mind. So have many others.
His family is not escaping the war in Syria. Like many refugees in Lebanon, they’re the Palestinian. Despite the current focus on Syria’s refugees making the treacherous journey to Europe, they are not the only ones.
Mohammed’s family fled to Lebanon during the 1948 war, but since then they have not been allowed to work or become Lebanese citizens. Their aspirations and dreams have been restricted for decades, but now they feel they have another option – Germany.
“My sister arrived in Germany just two days ago!” Ibrahim beamed, looking like he half expected me to jump with enthusiastic joy. “It’s better there; here you have no justice and no respect. We have no government to protect us. That’s why so many people love guns, because you feel they protect you” He shook his head, put his arms in the air and then shouted to the half empty restaurant: “it’s crazy!”
In the refugee camps around Beirut it is a struggle to find someone who hasn’t considered travelling to Europe. Whether they are Syrian, Lebanese or Palestinian, most have lost hope in improving their lives and now see travelling to Europe as the only way to fulfil their aspirations.
The current economic situation has made previously uncomfortable lives un-livable. A major cause is the war raging in Syria, some 50 miles away. Ahmed used to run a club in the centre of Beirut but had to close it down due to dwindling numbers of tourists: “Since the war, tourists from the Gulf and Europe have stopped coming”.
Less money from tourism combined with 1.2 million refugees has had a massive impact.
Sectarian corruption in the government is making matters worse. The country has not been able to choose a president since May 2014, bringing the top decision-making apparatus in the country to a standstill. As a result, social security is almost non-existent, leaving poor Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians to fend for themselves. To people here, things are not about to get better soon.
Most Lebanese can travel legally to Turkey, after which they start the illegal part of their journey to Europe. However due to their inability to get a Turkish visa, some Palestinian and Syrian refugees have been resorting to illegal migration routes directly from Lebanon by sea. The Lebanese army recently stopped a smuggling network in the south of Lebanon, rescuing an overcrowded boat destined for Greece.
Others, like Ibrahim’s sister, traveled overland through Syria. A flight to northern Syria is then followed by travelling through the rest of Syria to Turkey and then onto Europe.
“They managed to get through ISIS, Free Syrian Army, Kurdish and Regime checkpoints to get into Turkey. Thanks be to God, they are safe now”. Others have been less lucky.
So far more than 2,600 migrants are known to have died crossing the Mediterranean Sea to reach Europe in 2015, according to the International Organisation for Migration. This number is expected to increase as winter storms make the sea crossing even more perilous. With around 257 refugees per 1,000 inhabitants in Lebanon, there will be many who will still consider the journey, despite the risks.
The aspirations of many people living in Lebanon are not being catered for. The idea that one day there will be opportunities for their children is also gone. It is not just the economic situation, the lack of social security and in many people’s opinion, respect, means they have put their hope in another country to look after them. Most have put their hope in Germany, offering them a place where there is more equality, freedom and justice. The reality of people’s daily lives is enough for them to take the risk and go there.
Oliver Berthoud is a contributor for Global Public Policy Watch on Middle Eastern Issues. As an expert on the Middle East and he has spent a considerable amount of time in Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Afghanistan. His academic speciality is in Minority Muslim Communities and he is a University of Exeter alumnus. He is an Arabic speaker and currently resides in Beirut, Lebanon.
Cover image ‘Syrian Refugees Face an Uncertain Future‘ by World Bank Photo Collection