Barely a week after Beirut’s International Airport re-opened in the wake of a three and a half month-long coronavirus closure, scores of Lebanese have sought to flee the struggling state.
Many are travelling to countries where they hold their second citizenship, while others are seeking to emigrate afresh.
The renewed emigration wave comes after the coronavirus pandemic exacerbated the country’s economic crisis leading to rising goods prices, increasing power outages and a hike in already sky-high unemployment numbers.
Meanwhile, the country’s currency – the Lebanese lira, or pound – has lost more than 80 per cent of its value since anti-government protests started in October. Although officially pegged at 1,507.5 to $1, the lira is currently trading around 9,000 to $1 on the black market. Nevertheless, dollars, though highly sought after, are increasingly scarce.
The dearth of dollars, compounded by the rapid devaluation of the currency and informal banking restrictions, which limit the amounts depositors can withdraw on a weekly basis and ban most international transfers, however, has made leaving increasingly difficult, especially as plane tickets are often priced in dollars.
Bernard Hage, a 32-year-old cartoonist and graphic designer, told Al Jazeera: “We’re like prisoners who do nothing but try to plot our escape”.
Hage, who has been applying to go to Germany since last year, but has been unable to complete the process because of the difficulty of proving his financial situation, says he has “been left in complete limbo”.
“Every time I start thinking about finding a way out of here, I can’t even follow my own line of thought because the situation is so fluid and hazy.”
Meanwhile, Lebanese-Canadian Lama Moubarak Saab, who left Beirut for Canada early this week, told the National, fear of a war in Lebanon had pushed the mother-of-two to leave the country.
“We don’t know if a war is coming with Israel, or a civil war might break out… I have no idea. So I think it’s safer for me to just go back home to Canada,” Saab was quoted as saying.
While Saab’s husband told the outlet, “I will do my best for them to return but if you asked me whether I’m optimistic about it, I would say no. On the contrary, I’m very pessimistic.”
“Life has become very hard here… I honestly do not know what awaits us,” Wafic Saab added.