Earlier this year, Elena Eassey was forced to drop out of college halfway through, pack her bags 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 free fall
- The country’s economic crisis has triggered an exodus of its skilled workforce
- The lack of skilled labor is particularly felt in the health sector
It was “unbearable” financial and social problems that drove the 22-year-old to leave Lebanon, despite her love for the country.
The heartbreaking impact of the explosion in the port of Beirut last August cemented his decision.
“The icing on the cake is when the explosion happened,” she said.
“This [has caused] an economic collapse, people are trying to survive, prices go up, everything.
“There are riots in the streets. There is a revolution going on. They are burning tires.
The best and the brightest start
The tragedy that is occurring alongside the country’s unique economic collapse is the exodus of its best and brightest.
Encouraged to leave by her parents, Elena, along with her sister Christelle, arrived at a cousin’s home in Sydney’s western suburbs, Croydon Park, on Christmas Day.
Christelle described her shock when she arrived and couldn’t imagine spending $ 10 on nail polish, which equates to about a week’s minimum wage at her house.
“I was like, ‘Oh that’s too much, it’s way too much. It was very difficult to adjust,” she said.
Elena and Christelle are not alone. Unlike their parents, the young Lebanese generation does not flee the bombs, but an economy in free fall.
The labor market has contracted sharply, with the World Bank estimating that one in five people have lost their jobs since October 2019, leaving the country’s students with little to look forward to.
Having an Australian passport by descent made it easier for the sisters to move, but others are not so lucky, according to Christophe Abi-Nassif, acting director of the Lebanon program at the Middle East Institute in Washington DC.
“The human infrastructure of the country is indeed disintegrating… the problem is that very often it ends up being slow and gradual.”
Highly qualified professionals – doctors, engineers, business leaders – are often the first victims of economic crises like the one in Lebanon, and the trend is worrying.
The shortage of skilled labor is most acute in the health sector, with the World Health Organization sounding the alarm on the “devastating” impact of a mass exodus health professionals.
“Nurses are leaving, doctors are leaving,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus said.
“This is very serious. Its impact will last for many years to come.”
WHO estimates that 2,000 doctors and 1,500 registered nurses have already left the country in search of opportunities elsewhere.
Dr Myrna Doumit, associate professor of nursing at the Lebanese American University, said private hospitals in Beirut started cutting nurses’ salaries last year and forced staff to quarantine themselves at their own expense. if they contracted COVID-19.
“They all want to leave the country, unfortunately,” Dr Doumit said.
Even newly graduated nurses don’t want to accept job offers, and hundreds of nurses are heading to neighboring Gulf states, attracted by market-rate wages and better working conditions, according to Dr Doumit.
“Due to the loss of experienced staff, they were putting more patients on the remaining staff than a human being can really handle, like 15 to 20 patients per nurse, and that is extremely dangerous,” he said. she declared.
Dr Walid Ahmar – a cardiologist from Melbourne who heads the Australian Lebanese Medical Association – said he received dozens of emails from doctors in Lebanon desperate to find work overseas.
“You have people calling us or emailing me saying, ‘Please can you help us get to Australia or anywhere in the world.’
“I’m just saying ‘It’s not that simple. You have to go through all the [accreditation] to start all over “.
Dr Ahmar said medical professionals had “had enough” and saw no future in Lebanon.
“It’s very pessimistic and very depressing,” said Dr Ahmar.
An “irreversible” skills shortage
Lebanon’s “brain drain” is a slow and insidious symptom of its deep economic depression.
Almost three-quarters of the population live in poverty, according to a recent report by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia.
Most people are paid in local currency in Lebanon, where the national minimum wage is around 675,000 Lebanese pounds.
At the official exchange rate, it’s worth a little over $ 600 but, in reality, it’s barely $ 40 on the black market, which is the only way for many Lebanese to access cash in dollars.
The Crisis Observatory Center at the American University of Beirut – which monitors the impact of the economic crisis in Lebanon – called the phenomenon of emigration a “third exodus”.
Lebanon’s history is full of crises which have forced people to flee.
The first major exodus took place after World War I, at the start of the 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 around 6 million, according to some estimates.
Observatory program coordinator Ola Sidani said this time all signs point to a huge brain drain.
While data for this third wave of emigration is being collected, the first two waves saw more than a million people leave.
“I think this immigration is irreversible,” Ms. Sidani said.
Karl Ghosn, 20, is relieved to have 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 left behind a shattered homeland and a kneeling political system.
The World Bank estimates it could take up to 19 years for the county to recover from this economic crisis.
Many young people see no reason to move to a country where they fear disappointment.
“It’s going to take a long time,” Ghosn said.