The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is preparing to respond to the urgent needs of large sections of Beirut’s population who remain homeless after Tuesday’s catastrophic explosion that rocked the country already devastated by COVID-19 pandemic and failing economy.
Prior to the explosion at Beirut’s port last Tuesday, an estimated 10,000 migrants had made requests to return to their countries of origin.
The UN migration agency has committed to organise voluntary returns for these people – particularly those most severely impacted by the explosion – amid COVID-19 related movement restrictions.
“IOM expresses its full solidarity with the people of Beirut – among them many migrants and refugees – who are grappling with the devastation,” said IOM’s Director General António Vitorino.
“Our staff remained on the job supporting those needing help and showing tremendous strength in the face of adversity, even as they struggled to care for their loved ones and experienced damage to their own homes,” he continued.
On the evening of the blast, IOM team members ensured the departure of refugees scheduled for resettlement despite the chaotic situation. Between Tuesday and Wednesday evening, more than 50 refugees departed from Beirut’s airport with the assistance of IOM staff.
The effects of the explosion and destruction of the port have left hundreds of thousands of people in need of urgent medical supplies and primary healthcare, food, shelter, psychosocial support and water, hygiene and sanitation support.
IOM is now working alongside UN partners to conduct a rapid assessment to further understand the magnitude of the damage and the specific needs of the most vulnerable people – including Lebanese citizens, migrants and refugees.
While the impacts of the explosion on Lebanon’s estimated 400,000 migrant workers and approximately 1.5 million refugees are yet to be seen, those already living in precarious situations will certainly be at greater risk.
Prior to the explosion, the economic and COVID-19 crises had pushed many migrant workers into unemployment, poverty and homelessness.
“Before Tuesday’s tragedy, we were already extremely concerned about migrant workers who had lost their jobs and were left destitute on the street amid the pandemic.
Now more than ever we must guarantee the health, safety and security of Lebanon’s most vulnerable people. Incorporating the needs of migrants and refugees in broader emergency response plans is crucial as we begin to respond,” continued Vitorino.
In an initial assessment completed in July, IOM and partners found that 32% of migrants reported experiencing threats of abuse, violence, exploitation and trafficking. A further 77% reported having no source of income – many of whom have lost their jobs since the start of the economic crisis in October 2019 and COVID-19 lockdowns.
Resettlement operations from Lebanon had only recently restarted after a three-month temporary hold due to COVID-19. Another 375 are scheduled to depart from Lebanon this month; a total of 3,000 refugees are in the current pipeline for resettlement this year.
IOM continues to work together with partners to support the people of Lebanon, and the migrants and refugees hosted throughout the country, to meet their most immediate and longer-term needs. (Source: IOM)