France economy

Young Lebanese seek a better future abroad amid economic and political crises

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Almost three years after the trifecta of economic, social and political crises in Lebanon, young Lebanese are desperately seeking to go abroad. For them, leaving the country means finding better opportunities for the future. Studies show that this belief is on the rise among young people – and this, in turn, should decrease their level of political involvement and engagement.

Perla was a year away from earning a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the American University of Beirut when she was accepted to an American university. If accepting the American offer would extend his studies for another year, the decision to leave was not difficult. In August 2021, she packed her bags and booked a ticket.

“I was ready to do an extra year of study abroad rather than risk staying in Lebanon and facing the unknown,” she told FRANCE 24. of medicine and the road is long. I prefer to start the journey where my future is clearer.

Perla is one of many young Lebanese who have left or are trying to leave the country in crisis. In a study conducted by Suzanne Menhem, an assistant professor and researcher at the Lebanese University’s Institute of Social Sciences, 75.6% of 1,023 young Lebanese aged 18 to 29 said they hoped to leave Lebanon. Of these, 26.7% have prepared or are in the process of preparing their immigration papers.

“The crises facing Lebanon have not only affected young people,” Menhem told FRANCE 24. leave the country as well. However, the high percentage of young people seeking to migrate threatens not only particular sectors, but the whole future of Lebanon. The more departures there are, the more Lebanon loses its talent pool and future players. key to the decision-making process.

Data for the study, which is expected to be published in an academic journal within the next two months, was collected in March and April 2021. But Menhem said if the data were to be collected today, the numbers would either be the same or more, as the situation continues to deteriorate.

According to Joseph Bahout, director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, it has long been common for young Lebanese to leave after their first degree to embark on a career in the university. ‘foreign. However, he says, this phenomenon is even more common today and is probably “much more true than [those who are leaving] don’t want to look back.”

“The reasons are clear. The prospects for improvement were stronger before,” he told FRANCE 24. “Today there is an ingrained impression that the country is doomed, not only politically, but also socially and economically.

Menhem said 90% of respondents said the main reason for leaving was the economic crisis, followed by 67.5% who wanted to leave because of the political crisis.

Lana, 19, said the main reason she decided to leave was the slim hope of change in the near future.

“I was born and raised in Saudi Arabia. I returned to Lebanon in 2019, just when the problems started,” she said. the first two months, then everything went downhill, that’s when I realized that I was no longer comfortable living in Lebanon and decided to continue my studies in the UK.

The protests of 2019 and a dwindling hope

Jana, 24, was among thousands of young people who took part in protests in 2019 demanding the resignation of the government, accountability and snap elections, among other things. However, with the 2022 legislative elections approaching, Jana is not sure if she still wants to vote.

“The uprising was a reality, but its promises were an illusion. I always knew Lebanon was unstable, but I never really wanted to leave. Today, I’m afraid I can’t do it,” she said. She has been accepted to pursue a master’s degree abroad and is awaiting her visa to travel in August. “Why would I vote and for whom? Even the alternative groups that sprung up in the wake of the uprising were unable to form a unified electoral list for the elections. Corruption is rooted in the system and its people.

According to Bahout, the excitement and hope that young people and other protesters displayed in 2019 no longer exist today. This, in turn, influences people’s level of political involvement and commitment.

“Some ask why people don’t revolt like they did in 2019, given that the situation today is much worse than it was then,” Bahout said. “But as long as you’re not stuck in the system [and can leave]you are not ready to pay full price to change it.

In 2021, some 79,134 people left Lebanon, the highest number of migrations the country has seen in five years, according to Information International Sal, an independent research and consultancy firm based in Beirut.

“The figures indicate that the commitment to the country has diminished and that Lebanon is experiencing a shortage of skilled labor and young workers,” Bahout said. “In the long term, assuming that those leaving are from the middle classes, this exodus could exhaust democratic institutions and weaken the liberal social order.”