“If my son is dead, I will say, ‘To God we belong and to Him we shall return,’ but give me at least the evidence to bury him,” says Jamil Raad, whose son Ibrahim has been missing since the devastating Beirut port explosion on August 4.
He pauses for a moment, shares some details of his son’s life, before reiterating the same sentence, which will probably accompany him for many years to come.
It has been quite a while since Beirut was declared a disaster city. The city’s seafront is still destroyed and the reconstruction effort remains modest.
Beirut no longer resembles its former self. It has fallen silent, especially in the districts most affected by the explosion. People have lost neighbors, friends and relatives. Yet, arguably the greatest agony is suffered by those who do not yet know the fate of their loved ones.
He Left and Never Returned
“I want to know where my son is,” says Jamil. “Until now I don’t have any information about his fate.” Ibrahim, his 18-year-old son, used to call his mother almost every two months. If not, his friends would bring her news. Yet, ever since the explosion not even his coworkers have heard from him.
Originally from Tripoli in the north of Lebanon, Ibrahim moved to Beirut to flee a life of humiliation and build a brighter future. Ibrahim used to work over ten hours a day for a mere 50.000 Lebanese pounds a week. It could not get any worse, he thought. Little did he know that he had moved to a city that was sitting on a time bomb.
As soon as Ibrahim’s mother heard of the explosion, she rushed to Beirut, searching every hospital for her son. In vain. Anguish became Ibrahim’s family’s daily companion. His mother would calm her heart by hearing his voice on the recorded messages on her phone. Every day, she would ask her husband if the authorities had contacted him and if he had any news.
Ibrahim’s family of nine became emotionally drained. His father tried to get on with life and continue working for a Tripoli transport firm. However, that proved extremely hard.
Today, Jamil just wants the story to end. If Ibrahim is found dead, he would accept that. But he needs the body, or at least part of it, to be able to bury Ibrahim and end the nightmare he and his wife have been going through.
“Our problems are bigger than this,” says Jamil. “There is a lot of suffering in Tripoli, socially, psychologically and economically. But now our biggest concern is our son.”
“If my son is dead, I will say, ‘To God we belong and to Him we shall return,’ but give me at least the evidence to bury him”
“We just want a solution,” he says, emphasizing he cannot be looking for his son his whole life, while the state neglects its responsibilities. “But there is always hope. We are trying to be patient.”
What Is the Fate of the Syrians?
Firas al-Fahd was a laborer in the Beirut port. He was there when the explosion happened and has been missing ever since. He left behind his 16-year-old wife Petla and their three-month-old daughter.
Petla lives in a small room with her baby. She still cannot cope with the shock that has derailed her life. A life transformed from being a woman trying to secure a life and future with her husband to being a woman trying to find her husband.
Petla hardly talks. She answers questions with two or three words, apathetically, as if the trauma has become her. Being all alone in Lebanon, while her family resides in Syria, makes it very hard for her to take care of herself, so the neighbors help out. They provide her with food and other basic needs as much as they can.
Petla is still a minor and really too young to bear the huge responsibility for her daughter alone, especially after such a shock. Unlike most families of the missing, she has not yet done a DNA test. No one asked her to, she says.
There are currently still three Syrians missing, according to a source in the Internal Security Forces (ISF). All of them have lost contact with their families since the explosion. One of them, Mohammad Al-Rihawi, lived alone in Lebanon, while his family remained in Syria.
Mustafa Mansour, president of the Association of Syrian workers in Lebanon, says he received a letter from Rihawi’s family reporting him missing. The letter also states Rihawi had been working for a butcher in Hamra. But neither the association nor the ISF have been able to find him.
One day the ISF told Mansour human remains had been located in a hospital. A family member should come to do a DNA test and identify the body. But Mansour has lost contact with the family completely.
As for Rihawi’s Lebanese sponsor, he still has not been identified. There has been an attempt to find him, but without success. Mansour believes the sponsor may be the key to get information about Rihawi and learn whether he worked in the port or lived nearby.
Finding the Missing
Meanwhile, Ghazi Murad and Mohammad Mahmoud Eid have both returned to their families. According to his brother Mahmoud Eid did not go missing in the explosion. “There was some confusion due to losing contact with him on the day of the explosion,” he says.
It turns out Mahmoud contracted the coronavirus and had to quarantine himself for a certain period of time. Thankfully, his family found him on August 20 and informed the ISF.
As for Ghazi Murad, a source in the ISF told Daraj he was found alive on October 19 and returned home safely to live with his wife and children. Daraj tried to reach Murad and his family to find out what happened, but to no avail.
It is not the first time that Lebanon has experienced a crisis of missing people. There are still some 17.000 people missing since the days of the Civil War (1975-1990). Then too the Lebanese state excelled in being absent, leaving people to deal with the tragedy on their own.
The Beirut port explosion has left more than 200 people dead and over 6.500 wounded. An estimated 60 went missing. Most of them were eventually found and identified, yet five continue to be missing. And their families continue to wait, pray and hope.