IN 1975, when the civil war erupted in Lebanon, my family and I swiftly fled to Jordan, joining hundreds of thousands of fellow Lebanese who sought refuge.
Initially, we believed that our displacement would last only a week or perhaps a month until the situation improved. However, our separation from our homeland extended into years and decades.
These memories came rushing back when I received an invitation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates in Lebanon to participate in a conference to focus on the contribution of expatriates in reviving Lebanon’s economy.
While I agreed to attend this conference, I remained uncertain about its effectiveness. We have already done everything within our capacity to support Lebanon, yet the situation there continues to deteriorate.
I currently hold real estate investments in several prominent areas of Beirut, but unfortunately, most of them are currently on hold.
One of my investments is in a McDonald’s, and I am actively seeking ways to enhance and support its employees, particularly as it has become a haven for individuals from a once affluent class. At McDonald’s, we have dedicated our efforts to extend assistance to those affected by the devastating explosion at the port of Beirut. This assistance included providing shelter and free meals to the affected individuals.
To be honest, it is the emotions, memories, and the few remaining family ties that continue to connect most Lebanese people to their homeland. Many of them, both as individuals and institutions, still contribute financial support to Lebanon, including donations for healthcare and education initiatives.
Undoubtedly, in recent decades, expatriates have emerged as one of the primary sources of financial sustenance for Lebanon. Particularly amidst the unprecedented hardships that the country currently faces, their remittances and ongoing investments serve as the last social, financial, and economic support system.
Lebanese expatriates are of vital importance to Lebanon today. They essentially represent a crucial, if not the sole, source of national income and foreign currency.
Their contributions help fortify the national economy by remitting funds, investing in various sectors, creating job opportunities and bolstering the local economy.
For many years, Lebanese expatriates have consistently been the lifeline upon which their compatriots residing in Lebanon have relied. They remain among the most prominent pillars of the Lebanese economy, annually sending billions of dollars to support their families and loved ones.
Unfortunately, like all Lebanese, their funds have been trapped in Lebanese banks. A significant portion of expatriates had entrusted their savings to these banks, enticed by the high interest rates being offered. Consequently, the loss of confidence in the country has resulted in many facing substantial challenges and retaining dwindling trust in their remaining assets.
Official statistics indicate that the population of Lebanon comprises approximately four million residents, alongside approximately 1m Syrian refugees and internally displaced individuals, as well as half a million Palestinian refugees. In contrast, the number of Lebanese immigrants and individuals of Lebanese origin residing in various countries worldwide ranges between 8m and 12m people. Among them, around 1.3m individuals retain their Lebanese nationality, as reported by the International Information Company.
One of the most concerning aspects is that a significant portion of those still residing in Lebanon are eagerly awaiting an opportunity to leave. This stark reality is disheartening for a nation that has historically captured the world’s attention, admiration and fascination. This underscores the magnitude of the country’s existing challenges and highlights the pressing need for intervention from the Lebanese government and the international community.
Efforts must be made to establish favourable conditions and a conducive economic environment that encourages Lebanese expatriates to invest in their home country. This can be achieved through streamlining administrative procedures, revising tax legislation, and making investments in Lebanon more appealing.
Given the worsening crises in Lebanon, the current situation necessitates the collective action of every Lebanese citizen, regardless of their location or residency status. Lebanon now requires the active participation of all its citizens, both within the country and abroad, to alleviate its distress, initiate the process of reconstruction, and restore stability in the aftermath of the political deadlock and the economic crises that have affected various sectors and the basic necessities of life.
Lebanese expatriates, driven by their deep commitment and love for their homeland, stand ready to contribute their valuable skills and resources to salvage what can be salvaged and prevent further deterioration. The success of any expatriate conference in Lebanon hinges on fostering dialogue, understanding, and mutual respect between all stakeholders.
It is imperative to prioritise justice, equality, and transparency in governmental and administrative practices. These should be guided by the values of patriotism, belonging, and inclusivity. True national unity must be fostered among all Lebanese citizens, transcending political and sectarian divisions and tensions that hinder the attainment of overarching national objectives.