Lebanon crisis fuels brian drain and mass exodus
The Land of Cedars losing its hemorrhaging its human capital. Deprived of the future, young people and couples prefer to flee uncertainty. In the two-year period 2020-21, about 10 thousand definitive departures per month registered. An exodus that empties various sectors, starting with healthcare. Huge "discouragement" in the face of an "uncertain" panorama. Papal trip to Lebanon being studied: possible meeting with Kirill?
Beirut (AsiaNews) - A "possibility that is being studied". This is how Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican Press Office, responded yesterday afternoon to those who asked him about the long rumoured trip of Pope Francis to Lebanon. A few hours earlier, the out-going Lebanese president, Michel Aoun, had given the trip as a certainty, stating in a message on social networks that the arrival is scheduled for June. Lebanese media then reported it will be around the 12th of the month, before the Holy See's media responded the visit is still "under study", without certainty of dates.
One of the reasons for the procrastination in confirmation could be the ongoing negotiations between the Vatican and the Patriarchate of Moscow for a new meeting between Francis and Kirill. The first, historic one was held in Cuba on February 12, 2016. Excluding the Moscow seat of the patriarchate for multiple reasons, first of which is the Russian invasion of Ukraine - around which Vatican diplomacy is particularly active in the role of mediator - a neutral and possible ground could be precisely that of Lebanon. A hypothesis that would make plausible the persistent uncertainties about the date of the visit.
In the meantime, the relentless dramatic economic, institutional and social crisis continues, pushing many, individuals and families, to emigrate. Below a snapshot of the situation:.
In the absence of solutions to the multi-level and multi-sector crisis that has hit it, Lebanon's demographic upheaval continues and even seems to increase, an event that is certainly not recent, to the detriment of essential sectors that once made it famous. First and foremost, the health sector. An increasingly common opinion is that the country continues to massively lose its human capital, a change that began in the war years and that the silence of guns and cannons does not seem to have reduced.
"Stay in Lebanon? Better to escape! That's what most young people think about their country," assures Suzanne Menhem, a graduate of the University of Poitiers-Migrinter, now a lecturer and researcher at the Institute of Social Sciences of the Lebanese University. Soon, the researcher should publish the results of a study on the intentions of young Lebanese faced with the choice of emigration. And for thousands of them, deprived of the future, full of uncertainties, whether they are young adults or couples, a new phenomenon is on the horizon, as Menhem confirms: there are "whole families" who are fleeing from a country adrift.
In 2020-21, an average of between 8 and 10 thousand "definitive departures" per month were recorded, explained journalist Jean Aziz during a recent lecture at Holy Spirit University in Kaslik. This estimate is based on the movement of travelers at the Beirut airport, according to reports produced regularly by the General Security Directorate of the Bureau of Statistics. These figures are obtained by subtracting the returns, from the total number of departures of Lebanese travelers. And they are revealing of a trend, although they may include a certain margin of error as Suzanne Menhem points out.
Worrying brain drain
Boutros Labaky*, a former senior official in the Ministry of Planning, a professor and researcher at Lebanese University, and longtime vice president of the Council for Development and Reconstruction, recently conducted a study on the issue. And based on the results he says that regardless of the movement of emigration that took place during the war, the "most catastrophic" wave of departures took place in the 1990s. According to this voice critical of the policies of the Hariri [former Lebanese prime minister], the main cause of this hemorrhage was the policy of increasing bank interest rates, which halted economic growth.
However, for the economist, it is the phenomenon defined as the "brain drain", i.e. the migratory flow of scientists, researchers or, more generally, people with high levels of qualification, that seems to be the most worrying element. All liberal professions, as well as the teaching and banking sectors, Labaky points out, are affected by these massive departures. Citing data from the World Health Organization (WHO), he specifies that since 2009, 40% of doctors have left Lebanon. This percentage is 30% for paramedics. In 2021, the number of departing doctors rose to 1,500, compared to 100 doctors per year in the past. According to the register of the Order, the total number of doctors today is 15 thousand.
Confirming the budget, the president of the medical order Charaf Abou Charaf draws an even more dramatic picture, trusting that "every two weeks, about forty new practitioners are sworn in... and almost all of them leave."
"This is the most frightening figure," comments Dr. Abou Charaf. Unable to take off in their profession to ensure a minimum subsistence, some 800 new doctors will have left the country by the end of this year, who represent the reservoir from which to draw for the future. "And that's a disaster. We need to stop this bleeding as soon as possible!" And the order's president added that between 100 and 150 of the top specialists in university hospitals (Chu), the same ones who have been able to form Lebanon's reputation over time as the "hospital of the Middle East," have left the country in recent years.
67% of young people towards exodus
For his part, based on the results of a study carried out in 2021 on 1023 mostly Christian youth, focusing on the impact of multiple crises in Lebanon and the decision to migrate, Menhem says that "75% of the youth questioned wanted to leave the country, some of them in company, and of these at least 67.5% would have done so permanently."
Menhem also notes the "new phenomenon of whole families migrating" and reveals that young people have begun attempting makeshift applications at universities to increase their chances of obtaining an expatriate visa. While stating that not all candidates for departure will be able to realize their projects, due to several factors, including the banking crisis, the expert nevertheless assures that this loss of human capital is difficult to remedy. The consequences of this exodus include an aging population, a decrease in the supply of employment and productivity, a drop in fertility and social diversity. Finally, the scholar expresses regret that this collapse is taking place in the absence of any state policy designed and aimed at the world of young people, who find themselves in the grip of "enormous discouragement, in the face of such an uncertain panorama".
*Boutros Labaky, "L'émigration des Libanais : 1850-2018, itinéraires d'une mondialisation précoce", Saër el-Machrek editions. The book brings together studies published in "Le Commerce du Levant".