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Lebanese poverty fuels deadly migration in the ‘city of billionaires’!

The poorest citizens in the place where Lebanon’s wealthiest leaders were born grieve their dead once more. They included Mustafa Misto, a taxi driver in Tripoli, and his three small children, whose remains were discovered off the coast of Syria on Thursday after they departed from Lebanon aboard a migrant boat carrying more than 100 people. It is the worst such voyage from Lebanon to date, where rising misery is driving even more people to undertake the risky trek on shoddy and overloaded boats in search of a better life in Europe. 94 bodies have been found, with many of them reportedly being youngsters.

In order to feed his family before setting sail on the tragic journey, Misto sold his vehicle and his mother’s gold, according to relatives and neighbours, but he was still unable to purchase basic necessities like cheese for his kids’ sandwiches. Three years after the country’s disastrous financial collapse, the tragedy has brought to light the extreme poverty in northern Lebanon, and in Tripoli in particular, which is pushing more and more individuals to resort to desperate methods.

Additionally, it has highlighted glaring disparities that are particularly severe in the north: Tripoli is home to some extremely wealthy politicians but has seen little in the way of growth or investment. While many of Lebanon’s sectarian leaders have invested money in their neighbourhoods to boost electoral support, Tripoli locals claim that despite the affluence of their politicians, their neighbourhood has been neglected. Many mourners in Tripoli’s poor Bab al-Ramel neighbourhood expressed resentment at the city’s officials, particularly Najib Mikati, the country’s rich prime minister.

Tripoli, the second-largest city in Lebanon with a population of over 500,000, was already the poorest place in the nation before the country descended into a financial catastrophe as a result of years of corruption and incompetent leadership, overseen by the ruling elites. Despite the political ascent of wealthy businessmen from the city, Mohanad Hage Ali of the Carnegie Middle East Center claimed that Tripoli has not seen any significant development attempts since the 1975–1990 civil war. According to him, this ‘resembled the rising inequality and wealth imbalance in the nation’.


The fourth richest man in the Arab world in 2022, according to Forbes, Mikati made a large portion of his money in the telecom industry. In a statement to Reuters on Thursday, Mikati’s office claimed that through his charity institutions, he had been the ‘largest supporter of socio-economic development in Tripoli’ for more than 40 years. He was also aware of the suffering that the crisis-affected people of Tripoli and Lebanon as a whole were experiencing.

Locally known as ‘Mikati’s Palace’, Mikati’s beachside estate on the outskirts of the city has served as a focal point for demonstrations against economic hardship and political corruption in recent years.  In October 2019, a Lebanese prosecutor charged Mikati with illegal gain for utilising money intended for a programme that provided subsidised home  loan scheme for poor families – accusations he has denied.


Only three in ten residents of Tripoli cast ballots in the city’s parliamentary elections in May, demonstrating a gulf between the people and the leaders there and a sense that nothing will change. Since the end of the civil war, the north has been one of Lebanon’s most troublesome areas. For young Sunni Muslim extremists, the city and its surroundings have served as a fruitful recruitment ground. The financial collapse-related deterioration in security has recently focused on Tripoli. An increase in crimes and violence prompted Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi to unveil a new security strategy.

According to inhabitants of the vast Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared, a number of the migrants on the boat were from Nahr al-Bared. There were also many Syrians, around 1 million of whom are refugees in Lebanon. According to the United Nations, the economic crisis has caused poverty to soar, with 80% of the country’s 6.5 million people living in poverty. The World Bank has described the crisis as an intentional slump ‘orchestrated’ by the elite through its hegemonic hold on resources, and the government has done nothing to solve it.

Last week, many additional boats made the journey from Lebanon; Cyprus saved 477 people from two of those boats. 3,460 people, more than twice as many as sought to flee Lebanon by sea in the entirety of 2021, according to the UN Refugee Agency. A mother and her four children from the northern Akkar area were also among those who drowned aboard the boat carrying Misto. According to Yahya Rifai, the mayor of their village, the father was one of the few survivors. Compared to the civil war, he claimed, the situation was worse.



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