Written by Migrateful volunteer, Patricia McGee. You can find her on Instagram @patsmcgee
In the early days of August 2020, after years of improper fertiliser storage, Warehouse 12 in Lebanon’s port of Beirut exploded.
According to the UN, the blast left over 200 men, women and children dead, 7,000 people injured and over 300,000 people and families internally displaced. The United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement defines internally displaced people (IDP) as those who have been forced out of their homes, usually as a result to avoid “effects of armed conflict, situations of generalised violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters,” and those who haven’t crossed an “internationally recognized state border.”
For reference, a similar displacement in London is equivalent to an exodus of everyone in the boroughs of Lewisham or Greenwich. The UN estimates that roughly 80,000 children were left homeless that day.
Over two years later, the aftermath of that fateful August day remains remembered in the hearts and minds of people everywhere.
Since the explosion, there has been little investigation into the cause of the ignition. However, some Lebanese leaders have been held accountable. Reports show that several high-profile leaders were aware of the improper ammonium nitrate storage, but did not act to fix it.
In August of 2022, experts from the UN called on Lebanon’s leaders–for a second time– to investigate how the explosion began. Despite this, the inquisition on behalf of the Lebanese government has not begun. Humanitarians and activists have called on the Human Rights Council to intervene.
The Financial Times reports that since the autumn of 2019, the Lebanese pound has lost 95% of its value. Resources are scarce; buildings and homes remain destroyed; the food supply runs increasingly low.
The frustration of Lebanon’s people is loud, yet is not truly heard. In the days and weeks following the blast, European countries such as France and Poland, among others, offered assistance via recovery teams. NGOs sent donations in the form of medical supplies. Since the initial support, Lebanon continues to receive donations from across the world, however, the city remains unchanged.
While many organisations have tried to help, Lebanon has struggled to regain its pre-explosion standing. There is no national internal displacement policy in place, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). Many institutions have assisted in the public and private sectors, but as there has been no national policy made, there is a breakdown of support. The Lebanese government has also been criticised for not signing onto the UN’s 1951 Refugee Convention (PSI).
This mixture of an economic and social storm has left people desperate and hopeless. Many men and women are forced to leave the country and city for a better life–one free of ruin and destruction.
With the recent sinking of a migrant boat leaving Lebanon, leaving over 94 people dead, it’s apparent that the situation in Lebanon and Beirut has grown far worse. Simultaneously, Lebanon is attempting to manage flows of Syrian refugees in one of the worst migration crises in history. Al Jazeera reported that Lebanon currently has the highest number of refugees per capita. Estimates show that there are roughly 1.5 million refugees in Lebanon.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported that the number of Lebanese-based refugees fleeing by sea has doubled between 2020 and 2021–and has continued to rise since.
The recent explosion has displaced thousands, Lebanon is not new to such a crisis. The civil war which took place between 1975 to 1990 led to the temporary or permanent displacement of over 800,000 men and women. In 2006, the fighting between Lebanon and Israel left roughly 17,000 people displaced. Years of destruction and turmoil of people and property have continued to spill into the present.
Despite the lack of economic and physical progress, Lebanon charities are set on rebuilding the city. One group, Live Love Beirut, has raised thousands of dollars to rebuild destroyed homes. They are currently 8k short of their goal; donate here. Another organisation, Basmeh & Zeitooneh Relief & Development, supports refugees being housed in the neighbourhood of Naaba–among their other causes. Support their current effort here.
Sources & Further Reading
ABC News – 2 Years Later, Hope for Justice in Beirut Explosion Fades
Al Jazeera – Lebanon to Begin Returning Refugees to Syria ‘in batches’
Financial Times – Lebanon in Move to Re-Peg Its Currency for First Time in 25 Years
Gallup – Port Explosion Investigation Saps Lebanese Trust in Courts
Human Rights Watch – “They Killed Us From the Inside”
IMDC – Lebanon: No new displacement but causes of past conflicts unresolved
National Library of Medicine – Beirut Ammonium Nitrate Explosion: A Man-Made Disaster in Times of the COVID-19 Pandemic
Office of National Statistics – How the Population Changed in Lewisham: Census 2021
Reuters – Families Mourn as at Least 76 Die on Lebanon Migrant Boat
The Guardian – Death Toll From Sinking of Lebanon Boat Rises to 94