BEIRUT: As increasing numbers of Lebanese citizens flee the country due to multiple entrenched crises, a recent report by The American University of Beirut’s Lebanon Crisis Observatory has foreshadowed a third mass migration with catastrophic consequences.
After the first big wave of 1865-1916, it was estimated that about a third of Mount Lebanon’s population had emigrated by the end of World War I. The second large wave occurred during the 1975-1990 Civil War, which saw about 990,000 migrants leave Lebanon.
It is expected that the current crisis will have similar results, as living conditions continue to deteriorate rapidly.
“We’ve been monitoring different facets of the crisis and one of these issues is migration and immigration, how people are thinking of leaving the country and what makes them take the decision,” LCO founder Nasser Yassin told The Daily Star. “I don’t think anyone has the figures right now on the number of people who have left but we’ve been hearing certain anecdotes about what’s happening in the education sector, the health sector and about the youth willing to leave or thinking of migrating.
“It’s been happening since 2020 but we really started to see people leaving after the Beirut blast, mainly people from the education, health sector and the banking sector,” he added. “Recently in the last three months, with the inability to get fuel, the electrify crisis etc. ... we’re in the beginning of a mass wave of migration and if things continue to deteriorate at this rate, next year we will see a big difference in population.”
Next month, the LCO will look at the number of registered students in schools as a possible indicator for the number of young people who have left. According to 2020’s Arab Youth Survey, 77 percent of young people indicated that they are considering and seeking immigration, which is the highest percentage of all Arab countries.
The World Bank found that one in five young adults have lost jobs since the fall of 2019, and 61 percent of businesses in Lebanon have reduced their fixed employees by a rate of 43 percent.
“I know Cyprus has been accepting a significant number of Lebanese, even last week there were 200 families on the waiting list for schools and this is similar to the experience of the Civil War,” Yassin said. “Many families, particularly the more well-off, moved to Cyprus thinking it was only a year or two and now we’re seeing the same pattern again.
“In the Gulf, academics and medical staff have been moving in the last year to Dubai, Qatar and Iraq. We don’t know what’s happening in Canada or the US – we’ll likely have to wait until next year to see how many people moved there,” he added. “Just at AUB, Ssome departments lost 50 percent of their faculty and the positions have been left empty, putting strain on the existing members. We’ve had 190 faculty leave.”
Based on the patterns that emerged from Lebanon’s previous two mass migrations, as well as comparing the situation with other countries mired in crisis, like Venezuela and Zimbabwe, the LCO’s predictions for the coming years are alarming.
The already suffering economy could collapse further as sectors that previously thrives and brought in foreign revenue to the country become substandard or unaffordable. The LCO says around 55,000 students have moved from private schools to public schools during the last academic year, diminishing a sector that used to be worth an estimated at $ 1.3 billion and reducing academic opportunism for the next generation.
“We’re losing our human capital and resources. Not only that but you’re compromising the future human capitals, because we’re now losing all the people who can build human resources – the educators, people who train others and the people who make people healthy,” Yassin said. “If we lose all the people who make society a better place, we will sink even deeper into crisis. It’s a compounding effect and it could take years to come out of this.
“The World Bank is estimating 19 to 20 years to recover from this. We’ve been without a government for over a year now, so how can a country with the third most severe crisis since the 1850s, survive without a competent government to manage it?” he added. “Should things go well and we do get a competent government that is tackling the banking issues, the health issues and then the social problems... we might start to recover, but i don’t think this will happen soon.”