Concerns grow over ‘humanitarian tragedy’ of desperate Palestinian migrants lost at sea

Special Concerns grow over ‘humanitarian tragedy’ of desperate Palestinian migrants lost at sea
Mourners gather around one of the bodies of two Palestinian migrants who died at sea. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 17 November 2022

Concerns grow over ‘humanitarian tragedy’ of desperate Palestinian migrants lost at sea

Concerns grow over ‘humanitarian tragedy’ of desperate Palestinian migrants lost at sea

Dozens of desperate Palestinians who embark on illegal and dangerous boat journeys to Europe in search of a better life continue to lose their lives in tragedies at sea, according to officials, causing anguish for grieving loved ones at home.

They leave their homes in the hope of finding better job opportunities and improved living conditions. However, some drown and others are detained by coast guards when they arrive at their destinations. In the end, many who survive are sent back to where they came from.

Ahmad Al-Deek, a political adviser to the Palestinian foreign minister, told Arab News that those who embark on dangerous journeys in attempt to reach the shores of Greece pay smugglers between $7,000 and $10,000 to carry them there in old, overloaded, rickety boats that are unfit to sail. Some of the migrants are from the Gaza Strip, others are Palestinians from Syria and Lebanon

Boats designed to carry about 10 passengers can be loaded up with as many as 40 or 50 people, which is a major factor in the risk of capsizing and sinking, he said. In some cases the boats, most of which depart from Turkey or Libya, are deliberately sunk by smuggling gangs over disputes, he added.

“Organized gangs of human trafficking and human organs (smugglers) are behind this humanitarian tragedy, and we are working to make it a Palestinian public opinion issue so that families prevent their children from taking up these journeys of death,” Al-Deek said.

Losses of boats are often not discovered for days because they are kept secret by the smugglers, who extort money from their desperate passengers and, according to testimonies from their victims, threaten them and sometimes beat and abuse them. They are particularly cruel when they are intercepted by Greek security patrols, Al-Deek added.

He said he has established a special department in the Foreign Ministry that is tasked with gathering information about Palestinians missing at sea, and communicating with their families and Palestinian embassies, authorities and coast guards in the countries where drowning incidents occur.

The department also works with Palestinian intelligence agencies to determine the number of victims and identify the gangs responsible for tragedies. It contacts survivors who have been detained or are in shelters and updates their families about their conditions, and helps relatives of the dead to have the bodies of loved ones repatriated.

Sources from the governing Hamas authority in Gaza say that the number of Palestinians who have drowned in perilous sea journeys in the past five years could be about 40. Other sources say the true number might be as high as 360.

Mukhaimer Abu Saada, a professor of political science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, told Arab News that economic pressures, resulting from a high unemployment rate and lack of job opportunities for university graduates in the Gaza Strip, drive young people in their twenties to consider the risky sea crossings in search of a better life.

“The unemployment rate among youth in the Gaza Strip has reached 45 percent, and among university graduates 65 percent,” he said. “Most of the government jobs in Gaza have been taken up by members of the Hamas movement.”

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, which is considered the second-biggest employer after Hamas, has reduced its staffing levels and is now only offering contractor jobs, he added.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority stopped employing university graduates from Gaza in 2007 and the process for obtaining permits to work in Israel are complicated, said Abu Saada.

Two million people live in Gaza Strip, which has been under a comprehensive Israeli blockade since 2006.

Bassim Naiem, head of the Hamas political department in Gaza, told Arab News that his organization is working to educate citizens, through Friday sermons in mosques and radio and television talk shows, not to consider illegal migrant journeys, and is asking many Arab and non-Arab countries to absorb graduates of universities in the Gaza Strip by offering them jobs.

Hardly a week goes by without a boat carrying Palestinian migrants from the shores of Libya, Tunisia or Turkey sinking, claiming several lives, Palestinian sources told Arab News, citing survivors who said that greedy smugglers use unsuitable rubber boats with only one engine and no captain, and carry at least double the permitted number of passengers.

They provide one of the passengers with minimal training in how to navigate and steer the boat, the sources said, but because this person does not know the correct procedures for sailing and how to deal with waves and other dangers, tragedies often occur.
 


UK tells tourists to avoid Turkiye quake epicenter

UK tells tourists to avoid Turkiye quake epicenter
Updated 8 min 11 sec ago

UK tells tourists to avoid Turkiye quake epicenter

UK tells tourists to avoid Turkiye quake epicenter
  • No travel guidance issued against visiting rest of the country
  • Flights by British carriers continue as normal to Turkish airports outside affected area

LONDON: The UK Foreign Office has advised British travelers against visiting southeastern parts of Turkiye in the aftermath of the three earthquakes that hit the country on Monday.
It did not issue specific guidance not to travel to the country, but told people to check with their airlines if they already had flights booked to avoid being disrupted by cancelations.
The three airports closest to the epicenter — at Gazientep, Hatay and Ceyhan — are currently closed to commercial flights.
There are also no flights currently from the UK to Adana, which is 220 km west of Gazientep.
However, flights to popular tourist destinations such as Istanbul, Bodrum and Dalaman have not been canceled, and Adana can be reached via internal flights from western Turkish airports.
Turkish newspaper the Daily Sabah reported: “Currently, only planes carrying aid and rescue teams are allowed to land and take off from (Gazientep and Ceyhan).
“Hatay Airport, whose runway was damaged because of the earthquake, was closed for all flights.”
As of this time, no British operators have canceled flights to Turkiye outside of the region affected.
Hugh Fraser, founder of Corinthian Travel, told the Daily Mail: “Southeastern Turkiye and the area in the vicinity of Gaziantep has many spectacular attractions and is noted for its delicious regional cuisine, but has traditionally been the preserve of the second or third-time cultural visitors to Turkiye.
“The earthquake is a human tragedy but it is unlikely to have much impact on Turkiye’s major centers of tourism — Istanbul, Cappadocia, and the Aegean Coast — all of which are located hundreds of miles away to the west.”
So far, over 5,000 people are confirmed to have died in the disaster in Turkiye and neighboring Syria, with tens of thousands injured and homeless.
The World Health Organization has said the death toll could rise to as high as 20,000, with people left exposed to sub-zero temperatures.
UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said: “The UK is sending immediate support to Turkiye, including a team of 76 search and rescue specialists, equipment and rescue dogs.
“In Syria, the UK-funded White Helmets have mobilized their resources to respond. We stand ready to provide further support as needed.”


‘Everyone has been impacted’: UK charity describes ‘race against time’ to find survivors

‘Everyone has been impacted’: UK charity describes ‘race against time’ to find survivors
Updated 8 sec ago

‘Everyone has been impacted’: UK charity describes ‘race against time’ to find survivors

‘Everyone has been impacted’: UK charity describes ‘race against time’ to find survivors
  • Devastation “beyond words,” says Action For Humanity CEO

LONDON: Rescuers and aid organizations face a “race against time” to find survivors of Monday's deadly earthquake in Turkiye and Syria and bring assistance to those in most need, a British charity said on Tuesday.

Following the two 7.8 and 7.5-magnitude earthquakes that wrought devastation in both countries, Action For Humanity, the parent charity of the UK’s largest Syria-focused NGO Syria Relief, released a statement describing the devastation impacting the lives of everyone in the areas worst hit. 

Two members of their own staff, a medical professional and a monitoring evaluation and learning (MEAL) manager in Idlib, Syria, were killed with members of their family.

Dozens of other staff have lost family members and “everyone has been impacted,” the statement said.

“The devastation is beyond words, virtually every village in Northwest Syria, and every life has been impacted,” Othman Moqbel, CEO for Action For Humanity said. “Two of our own team, the Action For Humanity family, were killed — a medical professional and a member of our MEAL team in Syria — people motivated to do all they can to save the lives of Syrians, lost theirs to this tragedy,” he added.

He continued: “They were killed alongside family members. Also dozens of our team have lost parents, cousins, uncles, aunties, nephews and nieces. Their lives have been ripped apart.

“Across Syria, traumatised families have been spending spent 30 hours out in freezing cold as they are afraid to stay in buildings that are at risk of collapsing. They fear more earthquakes. The death toll rises by the minute.

“We are in a race against time to find survivors and provide warmth, food, shelter and medical aid.”

Moqbel also said it was vital that governments, but also members of the global public, help to support the emergency response.

“Syria is suffering from being underfunded and forgotten throughout nearly 12 years of war,” he said. 

“There was no hospital capacity already before this week, just suffering, there was not enough food before this week, just poverty, after neglecting Syrians for so long, we owe it to do all we can to help them. 

“We have mobilized staff to provide emergency aid and are working with our peers to provide a coordinated emergency response — which is so vital in times of large scale humanitarian need like this,” he added.

Action For Humanity has launched an emergency appeal, raising funds for items such as emergency holistic kits, support for the medical facilities, fuel and temporary collective shelter for those made homeless by the disaster.

It also deploying its mobile health clinics to support those impacted on site and health systems already under strain.


3 Britons missing in Turkiye after deadly quakes

3 Britons missing in Turkiye after deadly quakes
Updated 16 min 17 sec ago

3 Britons missing in Turkiye after deadly quakes

3 Britons missing in Turkiye after deadly quakes
  • UK FM: ‘We assess that the likelihood of large-scale British casualties remains low’
  • PM Rishi Sunak: ‘The UK stands ready to help in whatever way we can’

LONDON: Three British nationals are missing in Turkiye following Monday’s series of earthquakes, and the UK Foreign Office is providing support to at least 35 Britons affected by the disaster, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said on Tuesday.

The earthquakes struck southern Turkiye and northern Syria, killing at least 5,000 people. More than 6,000 buildings collapsed due to the shockwaves, with vital electricity and gas infrastructure damaged amid freezing winter temperatures.

“We assess that the likelihood of large-scale British casualties remains low,” Cleverly told the UK Parliament. “The Turkish government has declared a state of emergency and they are requesting international assistance on a scale that matches the enormity of the situation that they are facing.”

The UK has already authorized the deployment of a medical assessment team, Cleverly said, adding: “The further stages of requirement will evolve over time. We will, of course, work closely with our international partners to make sure we address that.

“Many of the 3.5 million Syrian refugees hosted by Turkiye reside in the affected provinces. Turkiye’s outstanding disaster relief response capability has been severely tested by the sheer scale of this catastrophe.”

He said: “Turkiye will lead the disaster relief response in the areas of Syria where it has the presence.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared 10 provinces in the country as disaster zones.

On Tuesday, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “The UK stands ready to help in whatever way we can.”


Doctor says bodies “everywhere” in collapsed Iskenderun hospital

Doctor says bodies “everywhere” in collapsed Iskenderun hospital
Updated 45 min 18 sec ago

Doctor says bodies “everywhere” in collapsed Iskenderun hospital

Doctor says bodies “everywhere” in collapsed Iskenderun hospital
  • There was little amongst the debris to suggest the building was a busy medical facility less than two days before
  • One of the hospital's surviving physicians, who identified himself only as Dr. Deveci, said he found the scene at his workplace hard to witness

ISKENDERUN, Turkiye: Rescue teams and survivors peered through the twisted remains of an Iskenderun hospital on Tuesday, searching for signs of life a day after a major earthquake struck Turkiye and neighboring Syria.
There was little among the debris to suggest the building was a busy medical facility less than two days before.
One of the hospital’s surviving physicians, who identified himself only as Dr. Deveci, said he found the scene at his workplace hard to witness.
“I’m devastated. I see bodies inside, everywhere. Although I’m used to seeing bodies because of my expertise, it’s very difficult for me,” he said.
Much of Iskenderun, a port city located in Turkiye’s southern Hatay province, lay in ruins after the magnitude 7.8 quake hit just after 4 a.m. on Monday. More than 1,200 buildings were destroyed in Hatay alone.
“A doctor said there are about 15 people here, including the patients,” taxi driver Kerim Sahin said as he looked for a colleague in one part of the hospital.
“At the moment, they’re all trapped inside. Nobody can go near the building, only one cabinet is supporting the third floor.”
Sahin said the scale of the damage meant further rescue efforts were reliant on excavation equipment arriving from nearby cities.
The death toll in Turkiye had risen to 3,549 people, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday as he declared a state of emergency in 10 provinces. In Syria, the toll stood at just over 1,700, with tens of thousands injured or left homeless in several Turkish and Syrian cities.
Turkish authorities say more than 12,000 search and rescue personnel are working in the affected areas, plus another 9,000 troops.


UAE pledges $100 million in quake relief to Syria, Turkiye

The UAE has dispatched planes to both Turkiye and Syria with relief items and rescue teams following Monday’s quake. (UAE MoD)
The UAE has dispatched planes to both Turkiye and Syria with relief items and rescue teams following Monday’s quake. (UAE MoD)
Updated 44 min 24 sec ago

UAE pledges $100 million in quake relief to Syria, Turkiye

The UAE has dispatched planes to both Turkiye and Syria with relief items and rescue teams following Monday’s quake. (UAE MoD)
  • The sum would be equally split between Syria and Turkiye, with each getting $50 million
  • It was not immediately clear if the funds for Syria included the $13.6 million previously announced

DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates Tuesday pledged $100 million to Syria and Turkiye, one of the largest sums yet following a massive earthquake that killed more than 5,400 people across both countries.
The oil-rich Gulf nation — which had already pledged some $13.6 million to Syria — is spearheading regional relief efforts, having dispatched planes to both countries with relief items and rescue teams following the 7.8-magnitude quake that struck early Monday.
On Tuesday, Emirati President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan “ordered the provision of $100 million for the relief of those affected,” Emirates News Agency said.
The sum would be equally split between Syria and Turkiye, with each getting $50 million, according to the news agency.
It was not immediately clear if the funds for Syria included the $13.6 million previously announced.
Major General Saleh Al-Ameri, commander of joint operations at the UAE’s defense ministry, said Tuesday that three military planes had been dispatched to Turkiye, carrying search and rescue teams who have since commenced operations.
A total of seven flights are planned to the quake-hit countries, including two to the Syrian capital Damascus, he told local media.
Syria’s official SANA news agency said Tuesday that an Emirati plane carrying 10 tons of food supplies had arrived at the Damascus international airport.
The UAE reopened its embassy in the Syrian capital in December 2018.
In March last year, Assad made a visit to the UAE — his first to an Arab state in more than a decade of brutal civil war.