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World Council for the Cedars Revolution

Aug 11th
Home arrow News Content arrow Blog arrow Blog Items arrow Extremism In Lebanon arrow 20,000 educated Lebanese leave per year
20,000 educated Lebanese leave per year PDF Print E-mail
Written by Patrick Galey Daily Star staff   
Thursday, 08 October 2009


UNDP report warns exodus contributes to crippling ‘brain drain’

BEIRUT: “Staggering numbers” of highly skilled graduates are leaving Lebanon each year, severely hampering economic growth, according to new research.

Data published Tuesday in conjunction with the United Nations Development Program’s latest Human Development Report shows an annual migration of roughly 20,000 Lebanese, the majority of which are well-educated. This contributes to a crippling “brain drain,” and strains the national workforce, according to economic and social policy experts.

More than two-thirds of male and 45 percent of female university graduates opt to work abroad – a worrying trend according to assistant professor of economics at American University Beirut, Jad Chaaban.

“Most Lebanese migrants are highly skilled. Many of them are medical or engineering students and a significant proportion of those studying now – more than a third – say they want to leave,” he said. “These are not nice figures.”

Nearly 30 percent of emigrants head for the Gulf states with the US and Australia also hosting several thousand Lebanese expatriates.

The UNDP report, “Overcoming barriers: human mobility and development,” was launched on Tuesday under the auspices of Marta Ruedas, the UN deputy special coordinator for Lebanon.

It contained 2009 rankings tables for levels of human development in individual countries. It ranked Lebanon as the 83rd most desirable place to live based on life expectancy, access to education and quality of life – a fall of five places since 2006.

In spite of what Ruedas termed a recent “overall positive trend” of human development, Lebanon has struggled to keep up with countries at similar stages of maturity.

“What is not so positive is that the rank of Lebanon has gone down. This means that Lebanon, in a comparative scheme, is going forward at a slower rate,” she said.

As for migration, Lebanon still struggles to keep its most talented individuals at home.

Chaaban pointed to domestic “push factors” which prompt young people to leave, which include political instability, the high cost of living within Lebanon and “cumbersome” legislation which discourages entrepreneurialism.

In addition, higher salaries and more rewarding working environments in adopted countries pull Lebanese workers to more attractive job packages abroad.

“Lebanon is not creating enough skilled labor opportunities,” he said. “We are losing talented individuals and paying locally for education that has its returns abroad.”

Almost 40 percent of the world’s migrants are from the Middle East and North Africa Region.

“Migration in this region is something that we really need to take a look at. There are positives and negatives,” said Ruedas.

She added that human-rights abuses among migrants in the region were rife and that many lack access to basic social provisions once settled in their adopted countries.

“[There are] a number of abusive and exploitative working conditions and the distinctive reaction for a country [receiving migrants] is to initially throw up barriers in terms of employment,” she said. “Migrant women in the Gulf countries are excluded in many places from normal worker protection. This changing slowly, but it is still a dominant factor of migration in this region.”

The report’s launch also discussed the potential benefits that migration offers to Lebanon, including the vast remittances sent by the Lebanese Diaspora.

“There are a lot of opportunities for Lebanon when it comes to migration,” said Ruedas.

Lebanon is second only to India in the amount of remittances received, calculated as $4.5 billion in 2006, the most recent year on which data was compiled. Remittances now account for more than 20 percent of Lebanese GDP, but this is not always to the benefit of communities here.

“Most money sent back home to Lebanon seems to be spent on daily consumption – up to 80 percent,” said Chaaban.

Ruedas announced that the UNDP within Lebanon was working on initiatives that would see money sent from abroad used more for social development. “Most often remittances come, but they go directly to families,” said Ruedas. “They tend to be less directly connected to development than might be the case.”

Chaaban said research done by the University of Saint Joseph, Lebanese American University and American University Beirut had unearthed a previously unexplored advantage of migration from Lebanon – an increased competitiveness among students.

“When I know I have a potential to leave, I want to study more in my country, so I tend to learn more languages and skills. This expectation of migration creates a competition for learning,” said Chaaban.

The phenomenon has lead to a generation of exceptionally well-skilled Lebanese, all of whom are competing for a relatively small amount of jobs to suit their qualification levels.

Chaaban suggested that more skilled public sector jobs be created in order to accommodate graduates and prevent them leaving for pastures greener.

“This is an idea applied in many countries. The private sector is not creating enough jobs – they are really limited to real estate and services – so the public sector needs to step in and upgrade their skilled workforce,” he said. “It needs to get these people back.”



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