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Palestinian Refugee Recounts to Asharq Al-Awsat Desperate Attempts to Leave Lebanon

Palestinian Refugee Recounts to Asharq Al-Awsat Desperate Attempts to Leave Lebanon

Sunday, 15 December, 2019 - 08:00
Children play at a Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon on 1 September 2018

A Palestinian refugee recalled his arduous ordeals to leave Lebanon to a country that “respects human rights.”

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, the refugee, 22, displayed his tattoo-covered arm, which tells the story of his fruitless attempts to quit a country that has plunged him in despair.

The refugee, who went by the name of “Adam”, explained that difficult conditions in Lebanon forced him to turn to human traffickers.

“I have become an expert in these brokers. I know more than a hundred,” he said, playing the voice recording of one who asked for 1,200 dollars in return for a plane ticket and authorization from the Turkish embassy.

Adam’s first attempt to leave Lebanese started in late 2016.

At the time, a broker said he could secure him a visa to Sudan and later Libya for 2,500 dollars. The refugee only had 2,000 to his name and resorted to borrowing 1,500. He gave the broker a 200-dollar down payment, but no sooner had he done so that the trafficker disappeared.

His second attempt took him to Libya with the hope of eventually reaching Turkey and then Greece. In order to leave Lebanon, he had to head to the northern city of Tripoli to take a voyage on the “boats of death” that were headed to Europe. He paid 2,000 dollars for the risky trip, but intelligence forces arrested him and 45 other Palestinians, several Tripolites and ten youths from Bangladesh before they could leave.

They later discovered that one of the would-be travelers was in fact an informant. They were released a day after being interrogated by authorities. An influential figure in the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon had intervened to ensure their release and the case was closed.

Adam revealed that he intensified his efforts to leave following the first two failed attempts. He recalled how he considered working with one broker, “known as the chief of traffickers with his own security entourage and who is given a warm welcome at the airport.”

“I never saw him in person, but only spoke to him by phone. He demands 11,000 dollars for his services,” he added. He revealed that he was an expert at trafficking youths under the age of 18 whereby he disguises them as a sports team or part of an orchestra to escape suspicions at the airport.

“I then worked with a Libyan broker and another Lebanese one,” continued Adam. One of them was part of former Libyan leader Moammar al-Gaddafi’s security entourage. He asked 6,000 dollars in return for taking him to Sweden.

“I paid him 4,500 dollars in advance and was set to pay the rest when I arrived in Sweden,” he told Asharq Al-Awsat. He stalled for three months and then suggested that he take me to Ethiopia and from there, Sweden.

He arrived in the African country through a counterfeit travel document. “At Addis Ababa airport, I was received by an officer who took the document and 2,000 dollars and then disappeared,” said Adam.

“I spent six nights at the airport. The broker managed to secure the return of my travel document, along with a threat and order to keep silent and travel to Ghana,” he said.

At Accra airport, he was received by another broker, this time from Sudan, and a Ghanaian officer, who asked for 1,000 dollars. Adam was taken to a tiny hotel room near the Swedish embassy. He spent 25 days there as the Lebanese and Sudanese brokers suggested that it was easier for him to travel to Ecuador through Madrid.

“I was barred from boarding the plane because I did not have a visa. I was forced to go back to the hotel. I was broke and in despair. Were it not for some friends who transferred a few dollars, I would have starved,” Adam said.

The final hope was departing to Istanbul and later take a connection flight to Spain to reach Ecuador.

He arrived safely in Istanbul, but was stopped from boarding the Spain flight because he did not have the travel document dedicated to Palestinian refugees.

“The plane left without me. I stayed at the airport. I could not enter Turkey and was barred from traveling anywhere else,” stated Adam. “At the airport, I discovered that I was not alone. I met Palestinians, Syrians, Afghanis and others. Some had been staying at the airport prayer room for seven months.”

After three days and enough pressure on a Lebanese broker, Adam was promised a flight to Sudan. From there, he would cross into Libya through its unforgiving desert. Indeed, he arrived in Khartoum with 15 dollars in his pocket. He was met by a Syrian, but abandoned by the broker.

“I remained in Khartoum for 40 days and exhausted my options to borrow money from my friends. I tried to find a job, but to no avail,” he added. He cited the low salaries of no more than 50 dollars per month. He met other people suffering from the same plight and “we ended up sharing our misery, bread and strength.”

Eventually, Adam managed to return to Lebanon where he sought to find the broker who had taken the 4,500 dollars from him, but there was no trace of him.

“I returned to Sidon and imprisoned myself in my room for months as I wallowed in my depression,” he said.

“I am still looking for a way to escape to a country that respects human rights.”

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