Sadly, the death of 26 Lebanese – men, women and children – off the coast of Indonesia last week should shock no one. After all, everyone is aware of the endless tide of Lebanese abandoning all hope for a future in their homeland and setting off in search of a better life.
Untold thousands have taken similar journeys, from those fleeing Ottoman oppression in the 19th century through to the more recent émigrés fleeing the Civil War. Defeated in all attempts to make a life in Lebanon, these emigrants have been boarding boats for two centuries, setting off into the unknown.
Imagine selling everything you own – even your land, passed down through the generations and probably the only real asset your family has – and trusting an unknown boat captain with your life, your children’s lives, to head off for a completely new life. How desperate must such people be, that the possibility – or probability – of death, deportation or prison still seems worth risking in order to escape Lebanon?
Who is to blame for these deaths? Is it the fathers, who found their homeland so dehumanizing that they finally fled? With so little hope for prosperity or even stability in Lebanon’s future, it is hard to curse their desperate decision, no matter how foolhardy.
But where are the leaders when people are packing their bags and selling their land? They know the risk; they know the inevitability of these journeys. It’s common knowledge that Australia will not allow these immigrants to stay even if they survive the journey – they are all now shipped to effective prison camps on Papua New Guinea.
The government has offered condolences and transport for the bodies after this latest tragedy. You would think the state has no idea this was happening. Where was the advice and education when the people were setting out on this illegal trip? Last week, the village mayor was talking to the Indonesian authorities while the Foreign Ministry was still saying it would look into the incident. Has the government become so detached from the Lebanese people that it does not know the levels of desperation they are suffering?
This lack of a proactive approach to the problem is emblematic of the failure of this government. The very basis of a state is the idea that it should protect and provide for the people. If the government is incapable of providing hope for a brighter future, it should at least be wise enough to stop citizens from entrusting their lives to these death boats. Is it so easy to sneak out of Lebanon illegally that the security forces and Foreign Ministry cannot help prevent these dead-end journeys?
Perhaps this tragedy will be the one that awakens the Grand Serail to the dire straits the lack of leadership has left the Lebanese in. This incident shows that the people are desperate for a captain to lead them to a better life – even one they should know better than to trust.