Among those dead were Mustafa Misto, who was a taxi driver in the city, and his three children, whose bodies were found off the Syrian coast on Thursday after they left Lebanon on a migrant boat carrying more than 100 people.
Lebanese Transport Minister Ali Hamiyah told Reuters that 95 people died in the accident, including 24 children and 31 women.
It is the deadliest yet on such cruises from Lebanon, as mounting desperation pressures more people to attempt the perilous journey on rickety, overcrowded boats in search of a better life in Europe.
Before embarking on the fateful journey, Misto was in debt, sold his car and went to his mother to provide food for his family, but he was still unable to provide simple things like cheese for his children’s sandwiches, according to his relatives and neighbors.
The tragedy highlighted the increasing poverty in northern Lebanon, especially in Tripoli, which is pushing more residents to take desperate steps as the devastating financial collapse continues for three years.
It also highlighted the particularly stark and sharp inequalities in the north. Tripoli is the birthplace of a number of ultra-wealthy politicians, yet the city has received little development or investment.
Although many sectarian leaders in Lebanon spend money in their communities to garner political support, Tripoli residents say their region suffers from neglect despite the wealth of its politicians.
During a gathering of mourners in the poor Bab al-Raml area of Tripoli, many expressed their anger at the politicians from the city, including the billionaire Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati.
Tripoli, the second largest city in Lebanon with a population of about half a million, was one of the country’s poorest cities before Lebanon plunged into a financial crisis as a result of decades of corruption and mismanagement of the ruling elites.
Muhannad al-Hajj Ali, a researcher at the Carnegie Middle East Center, said Tripoli had not seen any major development efforts since the 1975-1990 civil war, despite the political rise of wealthy businessmen from the city.
Billionaires and poverty
Mikati accumulated the bulk of his fortune from telecom activities and Forbes magazine ranked him the fourth richest man in the Arab world in 2022.
Mikati’s office said in a statement to Reuters on Thursday that he had been the biggest supporter of social and economic development in Tripoli for more than 40 years, through his charitable foundations.
He added that he understands the suffering experienced by the people of Lebanon in general and Tripoli in particular because of the crisis.
The Mikati House overlooking the sea on the outskirts of the city, known locally as “Mikati Palace”, has been a rallying point in recent years for protests against government corruption and economic desperation.
The Lebanese prosecutor accused Mikati in October 2019 of illegal enrichment for benefiting from funds allocated to a subsidized housing loan program for poor families, accusations he denies.
His office said the charges were politically motivated and intended to discredit him, and noted that another judge dropped the case earlier this year.
Reflecting the loss of communication between the people and politicians in Tripoli and the belief that nothing will change, only three out of ten city residents voted in the parliamentary elections held in May.
The north of the country is one of the most volatile parts of Lebanon since the end of the civil war, with Tripoli and its surrounding areas fertile ground for the recruitment of Sunni militants.
Tripoli has recently become an example of the deteriorating security situation linked to the financial collapse.
Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi announced a new security plan after the escalation of crimes and violence.
According to residents of the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp, dozens of people who were on the doomed boat are residents of the sprawling camp. There were also many Syrians, about a million of whom live in Lebanon as refugees.
The economic crisis led to a massive rise in poverty rates. According to United Nations data, 80 percent of Lebanon’s population of about 6.5 million is poor. The government has done little to address the crisis, which the World Bank has described as a deliberate stagnation “orchestrated” by the elite by tightening their exploitative grip on resources.
Several other boats attempted to set sail from Lebanon last week, and Cyprus rescued 477 people on board two ships that left Lebanon.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 3,460 people have left Lebanon or tried to leave by sea since the beginning of this year, more than double the number in all of 2021.
Among the victims of the boat carrying Misto was a woman and her four children from the Akkar region in northern Lebanon. The mayor of Al Qarqif, from which they hail, Yahya Al-Rifai, explained that the father was one of the few survivors. He described the crisis as worse than the civil war.
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