TRIPOLI: In the city from which Lebanon’s richest politicians hail, the poorest residents once again mourn their dead. Among them is Mustafa Misto, a taxi driver in the city of Tripoli, and his three young children, whose bodies were found off Syria’s coast after they left Lebanon on a migrant boat carrying more than 100 people.
With several bodies recovered, dozens of them reported to be children, it marks the deadliest such voyage yet from Lebanon, where mounting despair is forcing ever more people to attempt the perilous journey on rickety and overcrowded boats to seek a better life in Europe.
Before embarking on the illfated voyage, Misto had fallen heavily into debt, selling his car and his mother’s gold to feed his family yet still unable to afford simple things, like cheese for his children’s sandwiches, relatives and neighbours said.
“Everyone knows they may die but they say, ‘Maybe I may get somewhere, maybe there is hope,’” said Rawane El Maneh, 24, a cousin. “They went… not to die, but to renew their lives. Now they are in a new life. I hope it’s much better than this one here.”
The tragedy has underscored soaring poverty in northern Lebanon, and Tripoli in particular, that is driving ever more people to take desperate measures three years into the country’s devastating financial collapse. It has also brought into focus stark inequalities that are particularly acute in the north: Tripoli is home to a number of ultra-rich politicians but has enjoyed little in the way of development or investment.
While many of Lebanon’s sectarian leaders have spent money in their communities to shore up political support, residents in Tripoli say their area has been neglected despite the wealth of its politicians. As mourners gathered to pay their respects in Tripoli’s impoverished Bab al-Ramel neighbourhood, many voiced anger at the city’s politicians including Najib Mikati, Lebanon’s billionaire tycoon Prime Minister.
Tripoli, Lebanon’s second city with a population of roughly half a million, was already Lebanon’s poorest before the country plummeted into financial crisis, the result of decades of corruption and bad governance overseen by ruling elites.
Mikati made much of his fortune in telecoms and is ranked the Arab world’s fourth richest man in 2022 by Forbes.