News from CNEWA

Christian Emigration Report: Lebanon and Syria Posted: Jan 23 2002 12:00AM

The Situation in Lebanon

The main reasons for emigration from Lebanon are economic, social and political. The number of emigrants continues to increase each year. As a result, many families have emigrated and hundreds of homes have been abandoned. In this study, we will attempt to answer the following questions:

  1. The number of people who left the country during the past 10 years.
  2. The religious communities, locales and social sectors affected by emigration.

Emigration from what is today the Republic of Lebanon started in the late 19th century, following the civil war of 1860. The majority went to Egypt, then France, the United States, Australia and Brazil. The second wave of emigration occurred after the beginning of the 15-year civil war (1975-90); some 900,000 persons are thought to have emigrated during the last 15 years of war.

Some of the results of a study done by Information International published in “Al Nahar,” dated 26-27 November 2001, are listed below. Information International based its study on different statistics and on a study performed by its staff.

Information International collected data about emigration for the period between 1991 and 2000. In order to reach precise figures, it contacted embassies of the countries concerned in immigration. To verify their findings, they studied a sample of 1,087 Lebanese families representing 5,890 persons.

Results of the Study

By the end of 2000, the registered population of Lebanon was 4,672,746 persons. The residents were estimated at 3,451,000 persons, which meant that there were 1,221,746 persons outside Lebanon. This number included those who have a Lebanese identity card regardless of the year they emigrated.

Movement of people through the Beirut International Airport may be the most accurate way to assess the number of people leaving the country:

Year Arrivals Departures Balance
1992 527,118
(Lebanese only)
565,563
(Lebanese only)
-38,445
1993 644,032
(Lebanese only)
692,082
(Lebanese only)
-48,050
1994 765,925 779,365 -13,440
1995 802,352 809,988 -7,636
1996 818,416 827,063 -8,647
1997 963,657 976,617 -12,960
1998 1,002,117 993,794 +8,323
1999 1,050,001 1,060,655 -10,654
2000 1,114,058 1,125,442 -11,384
Totals 7,687,676 7,830,569 -142,893

Source: General Department of Civil Aviation

The movement of people at Beirut International Airport is not limited to the Lebanese only; it includes foreigners and workers who stay in Lebanon. Based on the statistics of the Ministry of Labor, 75,000 foreign workers are officially registered. This number should be doubled in the presence of additional 75,000 foreign workers not officially registered (sources in the same ministry). Therefore, the estimated number of those who left Lebanon will add up to be 292,893 persons. Minimal number that travels through airports in Syria and Jordan should be added.

The total number of Lebanese persons who immigrated to Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany and the United States is 138,047. The total number of visitors and Lebanese students is 839,024 divided as follows: 263,209 in Canada, 313,304 in Europe, 225,208 in the United States and 37,303 in Australia. It is very difficult to assess the percentage of emigrants among the Lebanese visitors and students in the absence of accurate statistics. Reports from Australian and American immigration centers show that there are 4,000 to 25,000 emigrants per year who are not registered, but Lebanon does not figure among the listed countries. European and American estimations show that a maximum of 7 percent of visitors and students become emigrants (not registered), for a total of 58,731 persons, increasing the number of emigrants to 197,000 (without Latin America and Asia, which represent the last choices for emigration).

The economic situation and the will of the Lebanese people to improve their standard of living was a motive for a large number of families to leave the country. These departures are not considered as emigration since:

  1. The countries targeted do not allow nationalization as do Arab and African ones,
  2. There are strong ties between those who leave and their home country, since they always aim to buy and/or build houses in Lebanon,
  3. Some of those who leave still have their families in Lebanon.

Based on the sample studied by Information International, 100,000 persons left the country for work purposes during the last 10 years (half of them are married). More than a third of them were accompanied by their families, which represents 150,000 persons.

39.2 percent of these “travelers” come from South Lebanon, followed respectively by Mount Lebanon (27.5%), Bekaa (12.8%), North Lebanon (11.1%) and Beirut (9.4%). United Arab Emirates represents the first destination (28%), followed by Africa (27%), Saudi Arabia (23%), Kuwait (15%) and the United States, as well as Europe, the Gulf and Latin America.

Emigration touches everybody regardless of religion:

Rite Percentage
Maronites 30
Orthodox 6.6
other Catholics 5.1
Armenians 4.6
Shiites 30.4
Sunni 18.3
Druzes 5.3

While in the past the majority of those who emigrated were Christian, non-Christians (Shiite and Sunni Muslims and Druze) have in the past 10 years outnumbered Christian emigrants.

66.3 percent of the people targeted by the survey estimated that the major cause for emigration is the unavailability of work in Lebanon. The remaining percentage is divided as follows:

In conclusion, the following points summarize the situation:

Other Sources

  1. According to the UN Economic & Social Commission in Western Asia (ESCWA), the estimated annual emigration for the last years is 31,331.
  2. In Britain, there are 5,000 people of Lebanese origin. In Belgium, there were 6,000 Lebanese, many of whom returned there. In Finland, there are 6,000 Lebanese out of whom 2,000 are Christians; most of them are young people. In Germany, there are 60,000 Lebanese, most of them from South Lebanon; 15,000 are Christian. In Austria, there are 150 Maronite families. In Switzerland, there are 450 families totaling 3,500 people; most of them work in the United Nations or governmental organizations. In Italy, 500 Lebanese families are located in the north of the country. The Lebanese people are few in Portugal and Spain (MECC Source).
  3. According to a study done by the magazine Commerce du Levant, September 2001, the emigration to Canada started prior World War I. According to the Lebanese Consulate in Montreal, numbers have increased since 1988. There are 250,000 Lebanese people living in Canada, of which more than 150,000 live in the Province of Quebec, especially in Montreal (those numbers account for the recent arrivals). Others live in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta.

The people who migrate to Canada are from different social classes compared to those who left Lebanon for Europe, most of whom are from the higher classes. The major reason for migration is the economic crisis prevailing in Lebanon. For wealthier classes, Canada is an attractive country to start a business, provide their families with Canadian citizenship and provide their children with good education. Canada offers good advantages: English and French, proximity to the United States, lower cost of living compared to Europe and political stability. The Lebanese people in Canada are mostly found in the medical, commercial and food businesses.

Who is immigrating to Lebanon?

Caritas migrant center divides the immigrating population as follows:

  1. Male Migrant Workers
    Starting in 1980, arrivals of daily laborers were observed. Immigrants from Egypt and Syria, principally, enter Lebanon through its porous borders in search of employment. Not unlike those immigrants and refugees who arrived in Lebanon prior to 1980, these immigrants face a variety of problems such as health care, lodging, food, work, etc.
    1. According to the Department of Central Statistics, there are no official statistics concerning the departures and arrivals of Syrians to Lebanon. It is difficult to assess their movements due to their high fluctuations as well as the multiple areas of entry.
    2. In addition to the Syrians, there are also Egyptian daily laborers and laborers from South Asia in Lebanon. Their number cannot be measured accurately, but Lebanon has an agreement with Syria that permits the free movement of Syrian laborers within certain sectors; but the policy towards Egyptians is less liberal. The Egyptians come to Lebanon with a renewable visa for three months hoping to find a good-paying job. They find themselves in an illegal situation and are forced to share houses with 8-10 people. They are throughout Lebanon and work in fuel stations, in supermarkets, as housekeepers, etc.
    3. According to the Ministry of Labor, 75,000 work permits have been issued in 1999, of which 31 percent are for Sri Lankan workers, 25 percent for Egyptians and 15 percent for Ethiopians. The remaining 29 percent are divided mainly between Indians, Filipinos and Sudanese.

  2. Female Migrant Workers
    This category includes women from Sri-Lanka, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Philippines and other Asian and African countries. These persons arrive in Lebanon through agencies. 90 percent have signed a fictitious contract that is changed as soon as they arrive. They suffer from loneliness and uncertainty. A large number of these female migrant workers are abused and they often run away from their employers. Their major problems are:
    1. Bad treatment and abuse by the agencies and employers.
    2. Overload of work, prohibition of going out of the house.
    3. Often accused of robbery; the police are commonly used as a means of threat: police/court rulings are given in a language they are not able to understand.
    4. Difficulty of access to medical care.
    5. Abuse by Lebanese people who trade the immigrants’ permits for payment.
  3. 3. Asylum Seekers

    A large number of Sudanese and Iraqis fled to Lebanon because of war or persecution. They arrive in Lebanon illegally and pay all that they have to enter Lebanon. They hope to find a better life in a democratic country or a reinsertion in another country through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR.

    According to Michel Kassarji, Chaldean Bishop of Beirut, there are between 2,500 and 3,000 Iraqis in Lebanon. More than 90 percent of them entered Lebanon illegally and practically all of them consider Lebanon as a temporary phase from which they move on to Europe (Britain and Switzerland), Canada and Australia. Iraqis enter Lebanon via Syria paying between US $200 to US $300 to the Syrian border police to let them through.

    In Iraq, the emigration is due to the blockade imposed on the people, which leads to two major concerns:

    1. A high rate of poverty where the monthly salary is around US $3 (Chaldean Bishop of Beirut).
    2. Increasing infant/child mortality rate, usually from diarrhea, heart and respiratory problems as well as malnutrition. On 11 July 2001 Baghdad stated the following: “A total of 1,520,417 Iraqis of which 622,887 children less than five years old (41%) have died due to the embargo of the United Nations that started 11 years ago.”

    The Sudanese, who arrive in Lebanon either legally or illegally through Syria or Egypt, are mostly Christians. Even when they find work, they are illegal workers and liable to be arrested and jailed in the Detention Center of the General Security, whether or not they are recognized by UNHCR as refugees. Until last year, the Detention Center was based in a building of the Ministry of Interior General Security Department under atrocious conditions. Detainees were crowded into rooms without windows, ventilation or proper sanitary facilities. Then the Sudanese Consul and the General Security try to persuade the emigrants to accept repatriation. Those who refuse repatriation, fearing that it would put their lives in danger, are locked up again with a constant fear of repatriation. The reasons for the Sudanese people to leave their country are: 20 percent left their country because of wars, 14 percent because of religion (Caritas source). The remaining 51 percent left due to the lack of job opportunities, medical assistance, fear, etc.

    A large percentage of Sudanese and Somalis in Lebanon are single and live in groups of four to eight in small, uncomfortable and expensive rooms. They share the rent and the various expenses. A smaller percentage come with their families and live in the same condition as the single people. Women rarely work and most of the children do not go to schools.

    Iraqis are classified as refugees by the UNHCR; almost all of them are Christian and are divided into two groups: Orthodox and Catholic. Some 80 percent of the Iraqi immigrants come with their families and share the same living conditions as the Sudanese. According to Caritas, the major causes of their emigration are classified by order as follows: war (20%), affiliation to a political party (14%) and low income (11%). The remaining 55 percent are related to lack of job opportunities, health care, etc.

    4. Palestinian Refugees

    In 1951, the first survey reported that there were 376,472 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, most of whom lived in camps. Some of these refugees left Lebanon for other countries, but many remained in the camps. Living conditions in the camps are very difficult – people live in very old houses with decrepit, steel roofs unsuitable for extreme temperatures of winter and summer. The population density under the same roof is very high. Roads are not paved and sewage flows in open channels (UNRWA source).

    Status of Refugees

    The status of refugees can be described as follows:

    1. Legal status: The refugees have no right to live or work in Lebanon.
    2. Social Status:
      1. Their work is not continuous. They are often fired, not well treated, with low salaries and non-respectful employers.
      2. Unavailability of funds to have access to adequate and healthy lodging.
      3. Tuition is expensive, and is more so because of the low income. Often, children are taken out of school at early ages (a maximum of 12-13 years) to help support their families.
      4. Health care is cost prohibitive (medication, laboratory exams and hospitalization). Parents cannot afford these expenses.
      5. Psychological problems related to anxiety, fear, loneliness, fear of forgetting one’s ties to home country, absence of future planning, low self-esteem or even hatred of people and country of asylum due to exploitation and race.

    Who is taking care of the migrants and refugees?

    1. Caritas Center for Migrants

    Established in 1994 in Zalka, the center provides aid to the migrants and the refugees. The aim of the work is to help them become self-dependent. The center is formed of a committee of six persons with experience in this domain as well as a professional team. The work performed by the center can be described as follows:

    1. Facilitate the repatriation and installation of sick or vulnerable persons through financial and administrative means.
    2. Provide medical and social follow-up of persons held in the detention center.
    3. Provide financial and medical care for the women held in the different jails (Verdun, Baabda, Zahleh and Tripoli).
    4. Provide legal assistance for every person who needs an attorney.
    5. Allow the Iraqi and Sudanese refugees to become self-dependent through a credit program.
    6. Improve lodging conditions and provide the newly immigrated persons or families with a place to live.
    7. Provide the refugees and/or the migrants with prevention sessions as well as medical assistance.
    8. Provide the parents with financial and technical help for the schools.
    9. Provide immediate humanitarian assistance for daily problems.
    10. Provide social support for the different communities in order to reduce the inequalities.
    11. Provide financial, social and technical help for the Iraqi immigrants.
    12. Provide information about the migrants and the refugees.

    Starting December 2000, Caritas started a medical and social office in the Detention Center of the General Security that opens from 7.30 a.m. to 7.00 p.m.

    2. UNHCR/MiddleEast Council of Churches (MECC)

    It was created in 1950 with the aim of helping the victims of World War II, essentially the Jews in order to migrate to Europe, the United States and Canada. UNHCR’s definition of the refugees is based on the Geneva Convention of 1951 and states the following: “a refugee is every person whose fear of persecution due to his race, religion, nationality or appurtenance to a social group or a certain political belief, incites him to stay out of his home country and refuse its protection.”

    UNHCR has an important program with the United States and Canada. For example, last year 1,500 refugees were transferred to the United States. This year the U.S. accepted 2,000 refugees, regardless of their country of origin. Recently, 300 files of refugees were submitted to the United States and 250 were already accepted. Two commissions, one American, the second, Canadian, came to Lebanon in October 2001 to study the case of 600 refugees willing to move to the United States and 250 to Canada. On average, there is a period of 6 – 7 months between the time the file is submitted and the moment of departure. But in general, the refugees stay approximately two and a half years in Lebanon where they face different problems, including lodging, food or health care.

    MECC is the operator of the UNHCR program. The refugees are received in the refugee center at MECC in order to overcome their daily problems and rely on themselves through awareness programs, monthly subsidies, school subsidies and activities for children.

    On the other hand, the medico-social center, established in Sid El Baouchrieh in 1982, works on the integration of marginal residents groups of that region and their development to become self-independent. The center provides:

    1. Care for mothers and children with the help of five specialists and a nurse. In 1999, 4,116 persons benefited from the medical center, 1,630 persons had access to medication and 396 children less than five years old were vaccinated. In 2000, 400 students benefited from dental care and 328 children were vaccinated.
    2. Social care: provided by a social worker, it includes awareness sessions, home visits, integration of students, care for sick persons, handicapped and old people.
    3. Social activities: include training on sewing and embroidery for women, activities for children, health and social training for youth.

    In addition, MECC provides educational help for the Sudanese people to help them continue their studies.

    3. Chaldean Diocese of Beirut

    The Chaldean Diocese of Beirut takes care, to the extent possible, of the Iraqi refugees in Lebanon, especially Chaldean Catholics. Most of those who enter Lebanon go to the diocese seeking help. They are lodged with the bishop until they are able to take care of themselves. Often, those people have family or relations already in Lebanon who might help them. They share the same apartments, mainly located in Zaatriyeh, Sed El Baouchrieh. The living conditions are very difficult and unhealthy due to the proximity of people and the large number of persons sharing the same rooms. Some of the refugees work illegally, mainly as daily laborers in order to support their families awaiting the possibility to leave Lebanon.

    The Diocese helps them regardless of their rite through its Welfare Association headed by Dr. George Ezzo and six other members.

    1. Around 150 students receive the help of the association, which pays part of the tuition fees (L.L. 250,000/year/child). The remaining amount is paid by the parents.
    2. Several cases of people needing health care are covered by the association.
    3. The diocese has a car to transport the people from their houses each Sunday to the church. While parents are at Mass, the children follow catechetical lessons.
    4. Some of the refugees are caught and put in jail. When possible, the diocese intervenes on their behalf.

    The diocese helps the Iraqi refugees with its own means but their budget is tight and they cannot do much.

    4. UNRWA

    Established in 1950 after the Israeli-Arab war in 1948, its main office is located in Vienna, Austria. UNRWA works on helping the Palestinian refugees in the Middle East especially in the camps located in Gaza, West Bank, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. UNRWA emphasizes education and technical and healthcare assistance.

    Half the budget of the UNRWA is currently being spent on education. UNRWA, in coordination with UNESCO, has put together an educational program based on the program of the asylum country, especially in primary classes. Only in Lebanon, UNESCO runs secondary classes. This year, they received 800 additional children in two new secondary schools in North Lebanon and Bekaa. Four more schools are being constructed. Donations from the French embassy, the Canadian and the Japanese governments are given for education.

    With the technical and financial help of the WHO, health care is being provided to the refugees. In 1953, a program was developed for pregnant and children. In 2000, 26,000 children below five years old were vaccinated. Hospitalization is sometimes made possible through aid from Italy, Canada and the European Union.

    In addition to this, different activities are undertaken with the refugees. Food provision and financial aid are provided to the poorest. Income-generating activities for women as well as literacy classes are made possible. In Ain El Heloueh camp, they developed, in coordination with different Non-Governmental Organizations, a program for blind people in order to insert them in regular schools. A credit program was also made available in order to increase the income and decrease the poverty level (UNRWA source).

    II. The Situation in Syria

    Like other countries in the region, population movements from and to Syria started in the late 19th century. No official figures or statistics are available; moreover, no civil or non-governmental organization has conducted a research or study regarding this issue. However, some indicators could be found in a report done by ESCWA and some other papers prepared by individuals.

    Although emigration declined, the problem in itself increased because those who are leaving are the most educated persons. They leave behind mostly poor people and sometimes rich but uneducated persons.

    Who is immigrating into Syria?

    According to UNHCR, Syria hosts some 5,000 refugees who originally came from Iraq, Somalia, Yemen and other countries. Approximately 4,000 urban refugees live in Damascus and another 1,000 live in El-Hol camp in Hassakeh governorate.

    1. Sudanese Refugees
      According to Father Shelhot from Caritas, there are 50 Sudanese on average that enter Syria per year. Now there are 1,000 Sudanese in Syria of which 90 percent are Christians. Individuals rather than families emigrate from their country. They enter Syria without problems because they do not need a visa. Recently, the Sudanese Government asked the Syrian Government to provide them with residency papers or to repatriate them. The conditions required in order to obtain these residency papers are very difficult. The majority prefers to go to prison rather than return to their home country because of their fear of war.

    2. The Iraqi Refugees
      According to Msgr. Audo, in the early ’90s there were 500 Christian families living in El Hol (El Jazira). The Chaldean Church helps them a great deal. Instead of tents, the Church has constructed small houses for them; they are also provided with food, medications and other basic essentials. Currently, only 50 families remain, 20 in Damascus and 30 in Aleppo and El Jazira. The remaining number left the country for Australia, Sweden and New Zealand. The movement of Iraqis into Syria continues but it is highly related to the requests for visas toward foreign countries. Syria, like Lebanon, also seems to be a transitory country.

    3. The Palestinian Refugees
      They are roughly 375,000 Palestinian refugees living in Syria. Their situation is much better than those living in Lebanon. They have the right to live just as all Syrian citizens, with access to schools, medical care, social security, etc.

    C. Who takes care of the immigrants?

    1. UNRWA
      The Palestinian refugees fall under the mandate of the UNRWA.

    2. UNHCR
      UNHCR is providing international protection to recognized refugees in the Syrian Arab Republic. Basic assistance is provided for some 5,000 refugees on the basis of individual need assessment. Assistance includes monthly subsistence allowances, basic health care, primary education or vocational training. While resettlement to third countries is an option for some qualified refugees, voluntary repatriation is also pursued for those willing to return to their countries of origin. UNHCR Damascus, through its local partner, continues to provide special services for refugee women. This assistance includes training on various health issues such as pregnancy, family planning and prevention of AIDS.

    3. IOM (International Organization for Migration)
      IOM was established as an intergovernmental body outside the United Nations system in the aftermath of World War II with the primary aim of helping to reduce population pressures in Europe through emigration. Today the organization promotes orderly migration in over 115 Member or Observer States worldwide.

      From Syria, in 1999 IOM assisted in the release of 890 refugees to the United States, 185 to Canada, 85 to Australia, 2010 to Scandinavian countries and 500 to other countries. Numbers processed by IOM in 2000 are 765 to the United States, 260 to Canada, 1100 to Scandinavian countries and 300 to other countries.

    4. The role of the church
    In Syria, the life of the Sudanese is easier than in Lebanon because they have access to public schools and medical care. The Salisian Sisters have created sessions on computer programs adapted for the children who have trouble in school or for those who do not speak Arabic well. Thirty children are enrolled in this program now, which will allow them to integrate regular schools after those sessions without facing problems. They follow English, Arabic and mathematics lessons five days a week for four hours per day. The Sisters also provide them with catechetical lessons in their own language every Friday. Last June, roughly 20 children were baptized in this church. On the other hand, at Bab Touma, the Fransiscan Sisters of Mary provide them with food and medication during the first five months of their arrival. They also assist in job searches. The church helps them to emigrate to Nambia, the only country that receives them now.

    Conclusion

    The causes of emigration from Syria are many, but can be summarized as follows:

    1. Poverty related to low income and unavailability of job opportunities are a major factor.
    2. The governing regime leaves very little room for human rights and liberties.

    According to a specialist, “the major reason for immigration is economic, however ordinary people are divided. Some believe that living as a Christian minority among a Muslim majority is unbearable and the only solution is to immigrate to a ‘Christian country.’ Others believe that co-living with the Muslims is a fact – it has been this way historically but the minority is more affected if the community is affected.”

    1. The last decade had witnessed a large-scale movement of Syrian workers to Lebanon. Their number varies depending on the party collecting the information and the purpose of the exercise; however, the figure varies between 300,000 and 500,000. Syrian workers have easy access to Lebanon and do not require any legal document to live or work in Lebanon.
    2. Immigration among the Christians who came recently to Syria such as Armenians, Assyrians and Syrians, is much higher than the original number of Christians in Syria.
    3. Families, mainly Christians, immigrate to Syria not to settle and live in the country, but rather to obtain a visa or emigration to the United States, Europe and Australia.
    4. Current numbers of Syrian emigration to other parts of the world were quoted in a recent report of the ESCWA as an average of 719 persons per year, based on the information of the Syrian Ministry of Planning.
    5. According to ESCWA, the percentage of emigration from Syria is lower than from the surrounding Arab countries, i.e., 0.01% compared to 0.89% in Iraq and 1.61% in Palestine.