Lebanon’s homecoming headache
Lebanon prides itself for not being affected by the financial crisis. But what about all the people flocking back home and unable to find jobs?
April 21, 2009 3:11 by Dana Moukhallati
“I just relocated back to Lebanon after working in Dubai for the past five years. I was enthusiastic to be back home, and I have had quite a bit of experience. I thought finding a job would be a piece of cake,” says Tala Alian, 29, an investment banker. “It wasn’t. I came to realize that there are few job opportunities, and the very few that were available needed wasta [inside connections].”
“When I first graduated from college, I had this hopeful outlook on life and how I’m going to accomplish so much on my own,” says 24-year-old Mohamad Abdullah, who only managed to find a job in a bank after a year of searching. “I’ll be honest with you; I couldn’t do it without my father’s connections. They wouldn’t even give me an interview,” he says.
Alian and Abdullah’s stories reflect the situation faced by hundreds of young people trying to find a job in Lebanon. That’s because, as the financial crisis eats away jobs across the world, many youngsters who have been working abroad are now flocking back to Lebanon, hoping to find employment back home.
After all, the governor of Lebanon’s Central Bank, Riad Salameh, says that the country has not been greatly affected by the financial crisis.
“I saw the crisis coming, and I told the commercial banks in 2007 to get out of all international investments related to the international markets,” he says. According to the BBC, the Central Bank in Lebanon has a tradition of “conservative regulation,” which has kept the financial institutions safe. Banks could not take on too much debt, at least 30 percent of their assets needed to be in cash, and the weaker institutions had to join bigger banks.
But Lebanon will find it difficult to accommodate and provide for all its returning expatriates. After all, the numbers could be huge. In a survey by the Lebanese Emigration Research Center from 2007, almost 60 percent of the university students that participated said that they want to leave Lebanon after graduation. The graduates were looking for better salaries and more security in the Gulf, Europe and the United States.
Jad Chaaban, a professor at the American University of Beirut, told Trends magazine that around 150,000 Lebanese have work visas in the Gulf states alone. He expects between 5 and 10 percent of them to return home because of the downturn.
Now, young adults in Lebanon feel that they are stuck in a rut and that the government is doing nothing about it. And with work becoming scarce, they are also starting to complain about the available salaries.
“I get paid $850 a month, working 9 hours a day at the office. How can I have a family when I can barely live off of the money I make?” says Fares Hassan, a 31-year-old architect. Hassan believes that he has no options now, as there is nowhere else he can go. “The crisis has screwed up every country,” he says. “I’m damned if I do, and damned if I don’t.”