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Lebanese Students in Italy: Hunger, Penury and Isolation

Lebanese Students in Italy: Hunger, Penury and Isolation

Thursday, 26 March, 2020 - 13:45
Rome shopping street. AP
Beirut - Sanaa el-Jack

The cries of at least 80 Lebanese students suffering from the spread of the coronavirus in Italy have been circulating widely on social media. Their distress under the weight of hunger, penury, isolation and the threat of being infected by the virus has pushed the government to address their plight in Tuesday's statement.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nassif Hitti, discussed the issues facing students abroad, presenting ways to provide them with in-kind and material assistance and said that he would submit a social assistance plan at the request of Prime Minister Hassan Diab.

Jad Reda, a Lebanese student who lives in Ferrara in the province of Emilia Romagna, northern Italy, studying mechanical engineering, tells Asharq Al-Awsat about the situation.

"Things are difficult in general, and the Lebanese students in Italy are struggling financially. Those who work as they complete their studies to meet their needs and the costs of their education lost their jobs for now because of the quarantine. Others have been cut off from the money that they used to receive from parents in Lebanon because of the banking crisis and, after that, the spread of the virus e and the lockdown that accompanied it. They are facing an uncertain future and are unable to pay their rent," he said.

"A large number of them have not found a way to borrow money until things change. The lucky ones whose parents work outside Lebanon are receiving the money they need from them," he added"

Reda stressed that "the Lebanese embassy should intervene and facilitate the arrival of transfers to the students; instead it only checks upon the students’ health and whether or not they were infected and advises them to stay at."

Some of the students are trying to form a committee that will provide those in need with money through donations, said Reda who hopes that the crisis will be over once the quarantine period ends.

"Students are worried about the crisis persisting till after the end of next month," he noted.

This would put them in a truly difficult situation, especially since the attempts of some to return to Lebanon failed amid the Italian government’s inability to test them to ensure that they are healthy and the Lebanese government's refusal to allow them back in without having done the tests.

The number of Lebanese studying abroad has increased over the last few years. Among the main reasons for this is that the costs of studying abroad were cheaper than the “prestigious” universities in Lebanon when the exchange rate of the dollar did not surpass 1,500 Lebanese Lira.

Rami Adwan, the Lebanese ambassador in France, the country that hosts the largest number of Lebanese students, said to Asharq Al-Awsat: “The embassy has set up a department to deal with the affairs of the 5,300 Lebanese Students studying in universities across France to communicate with them."

"Before the coronavirus pandemic and the economic crisis in Lebanon, we looked after them and worked on solving their problems. We were able to help students in facing all sorts of challenges", he said, adding: “During the virus crisis, we have been working primarily on checking on their health and financial situation."

"While a large number of them have been able to receive transfers, there are some whose parents lost their jobs, making it difficult for them to pay for the costs of their education. So, we contacted the universities that they attended and managed to grant them exemptions that extend until their parents’ situation improves.”

Adwan said the embassy has dedicated two hotlines (0643753072 and 0643753328) that have been operational since the 15th of this month to provide moral support to students who suffer from depression due to mandatory confinement, particularly those who reside alone.

“We are working with the French authorities and Middle East Airlines to provide means for those who wish to return to do so when conditions allow for it,” he concluded.

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