Earlier this year, Elena Eassey was forced to retire from university halfway through her course, pack up her belongings and start a new life in a country she had never been to: Australia.
- An explosion at the port of Beirut in August last year accelerated Lebanon’s economic freefall
- The country’s economic meltdown has triggered an exodus of its skilled workforce
- Lack of skilled labor is felt most acutely in the health sector
It was the “unbearable” economic and social issues that led the 22-year-old to leave Lebanon, despite her love for the country.
The heart-stopping effect of the blast at the port of Beirut in August last year cemented her decision.
“The cherry on top was when the explosion happened,” she said.
“That [has caused] an economic collapse, people trying to survive, prices rising, everything.
“There are riots in the streets. There is a revolution happening. They are burning tires.
Best and clearest departure
The tragedy that happens next to the country’s economic collapse once in a century is the emigration of its best and brightest.
Encouraged to leave by her parents, Elena arrived with her sister Christelle at a cousin’s home in the suburbs of Sydney at Croydon Park in Sydney on Christmas day.
Christelle described her shock when she first arrived and could not bear to spend $ 10 on nail polish, which was about a week’s minimum wage at home.
“I was like, ‘Oh it’s too much, it’s way too much.’ It was very hard to adjust, ‘she said.
Elena and Christelle are not alone. Unlike their parents, Lebanon’s younger generation is not fleeing bombs, but an economy in a tailspin.
The labor market has collapsed sharply, and the World Bank estimates that one in five people have lost their jobs since October 2019, leaving students in the country a little to look after.
Having an Australian passport at pedigree made the sisters’ move easier, but others are not so lucky, according to Christophe Abi-Nassif, acting Lebanon program director at the Middle East Institute in Washington DC.
“The country’s human infrastructure is, in fact, disintegrating … the problem is that this very often ends slowly and gradually.”
Highly skilled professionals – doctors, engineers, business owners – are often the first losers of economic crises like Lebanon, and the trend is worrying.
The shortage of skilled labor is felt most acutely in the health sector, with the World Health Organization sounding the alarm about the “devastating” effect of a mass exodus of doctors.
“Nurses are leaving, doctors are leaving,” said WHO Director – General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus.
“It is very serious. Its impact will last for many years to come.”
The WHO estimates that 2,000 doctors and 1,500 registered nurses have already left the country in search of opportunities elsewhere.
Dr. Myrna Doumit, an associate professor of nursing at the Lebanese University of Lebanon, said private hospitals across Beirut began reducing nurses’ salaries last year, forcing staff to quarantine at their own expense if they were given COVID-19.
“Unfortunately, they will all leave the country,” said Dr. Doumit.
Even newly trained nurses do not want to accept job offers, and hundreds of nurses are making their way to nearby Gulf states, lured by market wages and better working conditions, according to Dr. Doumit.
“Because of the loss of experienced staff, they put more patience on the remaining staff than what a human can really take, like 15 to 20 patients per nurse, and that is extremely dangerous,” she said.
Dr. Walid Ahmar – a cardiologist in Melbourne who heads the Lebanese Australian Medical Association – said he receives dozens of emails from doctors in Lebanon who are desperate to get a job abroad.
“You have people calling us or sending me emails saying, ‘Please help us get to either Australia or anywhere in the world.’
“I’m just saying, ‘It’s not that simple. You have to go through it all [accreditation] process again ‘. “
Dr. Ahmar said doctors have “had enough” and do not see a future in Lebanon.
“It’s very pessimistic and very depressing,” said Dr. Ahmar.
Lack of professionalism ‘irreversible’
Lebanon’s “brain drain” is a slow, insidious symptom of its deep economic depression.
Nearly three-quarters of the population live in poverty, according to a recent report by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for West Asia.
Most people are paid in the local currency of Lebanon, where the national minimum wage is around 675,000 Lebanese pounds.
At the official exchange rate, it is worth just over $ 600, but in reality it amounts to barely $ 40 on the black market, which is the only way many Lebanese can access cash in dollars.
The Crisis Observatory Center at the American University of Beirut – which is following the effects of Lebanon’s economic crisis – has called the emigration phenomenon a “third emigration”.
Lebanon’s history is full of crises that have forced people to flee.
The first major emigration was after World War I, in the early 20th century, and the second, during Lebanon’s protracted civil war in the 1970s and 1980s.
As a result, the country’s diaspora is up to three times the population of about 6 million, according to some estimates.
The observatory’s program coordinator, Ola Sidani, said this time that all signs point to a huge brain drain.
While the data for this third wave of emigration is being collected, the first two waves left more than a million people.
“I think this immigration is irreversible,” Sidani said.
Hurry to get out
Karl Ghosn, 20, is relieved that he applied to study in Melbourne last June.
“I feel like life would have been a lot harder than it is for me now,” he said.
“With the lines at the gas station, the dollar changing, and the price of everything rising, it would have been very, very difficult to live there.”
He has left a ruined homeland and a political system on its knees.
The World Bank estimates that it could take up to 19 years for the county to recover from this economic meltdown.
Many young people do not see a reason to establish themselves in a country where they fear disappointment.
“It’s going to take a really long time,” Mr Ghosn said.