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Lebanon Endures Severe Wave of Human Capital Flight

Lebanon Endures Severe Wave of Human Capital Flight

Tuesday, 31 August, 2021 - 09:30
Medical staff at the entrance of the AUBMC (AFP).

It may seem that all the losses that Lebanon has been incurring for nearly two years as a result of the economic and social crises are remediable, if the country is put on the right reform track in the coming years. All losses can be compensated... But the severe brain drain will leave resounding repercussions in Lebanese society, threatening the country with a bleak future.

The new wave of emigration that the country has been witnessing since 2019, which started with the collapse of the banking sector and the seizure of depositors’ money, was - until mid-2020 - understandable and expected, to some extent. However, with the Beirut Port explosion on Aug. 4, 2020, which destroyed half of the capital and claimed more than 200 lives and thousands of wounded, this wave turned into a sweeping “tsunami.” As soon as it calmed down, it strongly resumed as the crisis hit rock bottom, with the lack of all the necessities of life, such as bread, water, petrol, gas, baby formula and medicine.

The situation of “hell” left the people of this country with no choice but to flee... Looking closer into this wave of emigration, one can see that the largest number of “fugitives” are from the elite: the talents and brains that no longer find in Lebanon a fertile ground for their ambitions and dreams.

The flight of human capital mainly affects the medical sector, with hundreds of doctors, nurses and medical staff emigrating in the past two years. All unions agree that they do not have any specific and precise number of those leaving the country, but rely on estimates.

Elie Ghosn, 22, from the northern border town of Andakt, left Lebanon about a month ago to complete his university studies in France after receiving a scholarship for excellence in engineering. He is not thinking of returning to settle in his homeland. Although a few weeks have passed since he left Lebanon, he noticed the huge difference in the lifestyle and the services provided by the state there in exchange for the basic necessities of life lost in his home country.

The ambitious young man is looking forward to obtaining French citizenship. He sees many opportunities in France, “where universities offer not only excellent education, but the development of the human being psychologically, physically and socially, which we lack in most universities in Lebanon.”

Noha Antoun has raised a relatively large family of four children. She loves to be surrounded by her children and grandchildren. But after years of family devotion, she is now deprived of this warmth. Three of her children emigrated in the past few years. The last of them is Aziz, the youngest, who left Lebanon last year. He is a computer engineer who is now working in Amsterdam after many successes in more than one Lebanese institution.

“They left one after the other. Only my eldest son remained… But I very much fear that he would follow the same path,” Noha told Asharq Al-Awsat.

She added: “There is no doubt that we cannot ask them to stay here, for there is no basis for survival ... As for me and their father, we will not leave our house despite all the difficulties, and it will remain a gathering place for them on holidays and occasions.”

A “Systematic theft” Of Brains and Competencies

Perhaps the most dangerous of all of the above is the attempt by foreign institutions to take advantage of the Lebanese tragedy to hunt down the competencies and skilled workforce in all sectors. This was evident with the tendency of more than one institution to persuade doctors, nurses, and medical staff to leave the country, by offering them “attractive packages” as a result of the sharp collapse in the exchange rate of the Lebanese pound against the US dollar.

This trend is not limited to the medical sector. The president of the University of Balamand, Dr. Elias Warrak, goes further, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat about “systematic theft of outstanding students and professors” by “universities and scientific centers abroad that we have been cooperating with for years.”

“What’s sad is that the packages, which were offered to these people years ago, are no longer available. Today, the packages are half that value… they are stealing the Lebanese brains and talents cheaply,” he remarked.

Warrak noted that the latest figures indicate that 75 percent of Lebanese students are waiting for the opportunity to emigrate and between 10 and 15 percent of professors have left the country.

“What we are witnessing is a real massacre... Everything can be compensated for except for brain drain... It seems clear that there is an intention and will for the systematic destruction of the country, and it is no longer permissible for us to remain silent about this dangerous reality,” he underlined.

Upcoming Waves

Professor of Politics and Planning at the American University of Beirut (AUB) and supervisor of the Crisis Monitor, Dr. Nasser Yassin, pointed out that Lebanon had historically exported brains and human capital, but of course not in the current numbers.”

Yassin told Asharq Al-Awsat about three important sectors that are losing their human resources: The health sector, which is witnessing a structural crisis and an inability to continue its normal functioning. Second, the educational sector, which is experiencing major repercussions of the crisis.

According to Yassin, around 200 doctors working at the AUB and the university hospital (AUBMC) have left or took an open-ended leave.

“We expect these numbers to rise with the beginning of the new academic year, as many educational institutions will be forced to close or witness a major downturn,” he said.

The third sector is the banking sector, as a large number of branches were closed and hundreds of employees laid off.

“This sector needs years to be able to rise again,” Yassin noted.

260,000 Passports in 8 Months

The Lebanese General Security recorded a significant increase in the issuance of passports during the first eight months of this year. Available data indicates that the number of passports issued since the beginning of 2021 is about 260,000, compared to about 142,000 passports in the same period last year. That is an increase of 82 percent.

1,500 Medical Doctors Emigrated in Two Years

The head of the Lebanese Doctors Syndicate, Dr. Sharaf Abu Sharaf, points out that there are no accurate numbers of doctors who left the country. He revealed that about 130 doctors from the AUBMC left Lebanon, most of them to the United States, while around 30 percent of the physicians left two other major hospitals – Saint Georges Medical Center and Rizk Hospital.

In remarks to Asharq Al-Awsat, Abu Sharaf estimated that more than 1,500 doctors emigrated over the past two years, most of whom are specialists with high qualifications. He warned that this number might drastically increase if the crisis persisted.

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