Those Lebanese Who Only Want One Thing: To leave

The Beirut International Airport reopened on July 1 and so the route to exile..

Those Lebanese Who Only Want One Thing: To leave

Since the airport reopened on July 1st, there have been almost as many departures as there were arrivals. Anwar Amro/AFP

"We are not even a country anymore." Losing hope and deeply worried about his future, Karl, a French literature teacher, is preparing to leave for Canada. "I am 38 years old. These are the years when I am supposed to do everything I can for my career, but I cannot stay here any-more. I don't think the country will regain stability for at least five years," he said. "We are not even a country anymore... but a group of tribes united in one territory and each dreaming of a very different Lebanon." And Karl goes on: "Better to leave now, as long as I can start over again and forget everything!" Before leaving, however, he has to settle two or three things: sell his car and his apartment in particular. This promises to be complicated in a Lebanon plagued by a severe currency liquidity crisis. "I always said I had to stay because I was useful to the country," he said. "But when I realized last January that the revolution was going in all direc-tions, I started the formalities for Canada. I only have a few documents left to submit."

More and more Lebanese, especially those with dual nationality, are preparing for their final departure from Lebanon. Some left as soon as the airport opened in early July. Surrounded by her three teens and nine large suitcases at the airport entrance, Linda struggles to hold back tears as she bids farewell to her father and sister-in-law. She has promised herself to remain strong, just for her children. "I don't want to leave," she said, as her tears started flowing. Too late. The departure, nonetheless, has been planned since May. Her husband, stranded during the coronavirus outbreak in Dubai, flew to Canada where the couple bought a house a few years ago. Farewells are heartbreaking. With tears in his eyes, the father promises to join the family "as soon as the situation allows." It is still too early to provide figures on the volume of final departures. The travel agencies interviewed declined to give details of the number of tick-ets purchased for a one-way trip. "There are not that many," said the head of a travel agency in Beirut, but pointed out that many travelers now prefer to buy their tickets online. "Many people call to inquire about one-way and round-trip ticket prices," she added.

According to information compiled from several studies conducted between 2005 and 2017, Lebanon has experienced four major waves of emigration. Between 1900 and 1914, 30% of the total population emigrated. This figure rose to 36% during the civil war, before falling back to 5% between 1990 and 2008, rising to 9% between 2008 and 2015. Economist and activist Jad Chaaban, who conducted one of the studies, recently wondered on Twitter about the scale of emigration today. His message prompted a wave of responses from Lebanese expressing their wish to leave.

According to al-Douwaliya Lil Maaloumat, 61,924 Lebanese left the country for good between mid-January and mid-November 2019, compared to 41,766 Lebanese in the same period of 2018 - representing an increase of 42%. The majority of them are young people and university graduates. Canada is a favorite destination for many Lebanese, including Ramzi, who has been a family man for less than a year. The year he "waited for most of his life" - when his baby girl was born - proved to be the most difficult. In November, the young man with a degree in com-puter science saw his salary cut in half, while the prices of diapers, milk and clothes for his little Julie skyrocketed. Since then, Ramzi has seen only one way out: to leave. He spent most of his time in the office applying for job offers on an immigration site in Canada. "I have already ap-plied to Express Entry (a Canadian job site). Finding work will make it easier to accept my appli-cation," he said. "I have always lived in Lebanon, but everything has changed since I became a father. I have a responsibility to my family," added the young man, who is barely making ends meet. "Shopping at the supermarket has become a source of anxiety for my wife and me."

The younger are not the only ones who want to leave a Lebanon in the throes of an economic collapse. Ramona and Georges have always lived in Lebanon, even during the civil war when Georges participated in the fighting. Today, they prepare to leave the country for the first time, to join relatives in California. Having obtained their visas a few days before the coronavirus cri-sis, they were forced to empty their packed suitcases when the airport was closed. The opening of the Beirut International Airport on July 1 meant that they can finally move on to "better op-portunities," as their daughter, Marilou, explained. "The current dramatic circumstances con-firm our decision and put an end to any hesitation," said the 25-year-old translator. "With the dollar crisis, we realize that we are at an impasse. Our wages have lost their value; we can no longer afford the same way of life. Unfortunately, we will be travelling soon... But our money will remain stuck in the banks in Lebanon." For months, the Lebanese have been subject to dras-tic banking restrictions that prevent them from freely accessing their savings, especially when they are in dollars.

"This country does not return our love"

Others have not yet had the chance to obtain a visa. Dalia, who has been actively participating since October 17 in all demonstrations against the Lebanese political class, is one of them. This young activist, who has made the struggle for human rights her job, can no longer stand her "humiliating" life in Lebanon. "I am sad to say it, but yes I am looking for a way to go," she said. "I have never really lived abroad but I have travelled a lot. I thought that I would never leave my country; I have been thinking about it for a while now. This comes to mind especially when we see the difference between our way of life and that of other countries which value the hu-man being. In Lebanon today, we cannot plan anything, not even an exit."

Unemployed since October, Dalia, nonetheless, deplores the fact that most work opportunities abroad are reserved for locals, a consequence of the pandemic. "All the help of the world cannot save Lebanon and I am no longer ready to make sacrifices; we are in survival mode. This country is being plundered; a mafia is governing us and the economic situation is the drop of water that made the vase overflow," she added

Lebanon continues to sink into its worst economic and financial crisis since 1990. The economic debacle, accompanied by a sharp depreciation of the Lebanese pound, has pushed at least 45% of Lebanon's population below the poverty line, while more than 35% of the working population is unemployed, according to World Bank figures.

Artists are leaving quietly

In Mar Mikhael, Matteo, an artist and countertenor who recently took part in The Voice TV competition in France, is also packing his bags for an imminent departure. Originally from Greece, he decided to settle in Greece with his parents. "We are probably going to open a res-taurant," he said. "We will take with us something of our culinary heritage...! It is over; my place is no longer here. I will leave the country to these rascals. I returned home because Leba-non needed me, but this country betrayed me. My artist's soul cannot hold up anymore."

While the October revolution gave him some hope, Matteo lamented that everything has deteriorated "in a cataclysmic way.” "I will leave my homeland and my heart here," he said. "But I am no longer strong enough to be constantly disappointed every day."

For Wassim Geagea, a young director who was recently awarded for his short film Omé, leav-ing the country is "the only possible solution." Every extra day in Lebanon frightens him, because he is "afraid of not being able to realize (his) dreams,” he said. "Time passes, life too. I do not want to waste my life waiting ... When I see that my parents have made the decision to stay in Lebanon over time and I assess the result, I tell myself that I must learn from their mistakes. We have even reached a point where thinking about marriage has become a dream, a utopia. What future to offer to children in this country?"

The young man, however, emphasized that Lebanon, "which contains a lot of pain," has taught him a lot. "Wherever I go in the world, I know that I can live and adapt. Lebanon, on the other hand, will remain in my heart. I will continue to tell its stories, to talk about all that is beautiful in it in my films. But I am tired of having to fight a new fight every day," he said. "By Septem-ber, I will be somewhere else," he noted, before adding, with a hint of hesitation: "But not too far anyway...This is not a journey without return."

(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 10th of July)

"We are not even a country anymore." Losing hope and deeply worried about his future, Karl, a French literature teacher, is preparing to leave for Canada. "I am 38 years old. These are the years when I am supposed to do everything I can for my career, but I cannot stay here any-more. I don't think the country will regain stability for at least five years," he said. "We are not even a country...