TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Renita Jablonski: Qatari mediators are making a last-ditch effort today to salvage talks between rival leaders in Lebanon. The country saw its worst domestic fighting this month since the 1975 to 1990 civil war. The latest violence is pushing the latest wave of brain drain in the country.
Journalist Ben Gilbert watched professionals leaving in high numbers after the 2006 war between Lebanon and Hezbollah. He’s with us now from Beirut. Ben, are you again meeting people that are leaving, or planning to leave the country?
Ben Gilbert: Yes I am. In fact on Saturday night, I met a woman who was an example of this kind of new generation of those who want to emigrate. Her name is Monique Karane, she’s a 28-year-old with a degree in advertising and marketing. And, I mean, she expressed her desire to get a visa to France and work there. She’s lost hope in Lebanon, she says she can’t trust Lebanon 100 percent now. Her experience reflects that of what one organization called the Lebanese Research Center has found is that 60 percent of people between 18 and 45 are thinking of leaving Lebanon.
Jablonski: So after the 2006 war, you had people leaving that had actually come back and established themselves and their careers and families, and now it seems like you have a wave of even younger people looking to leave.
Gilbert: Exactly — I think this is the last straw. Many people here see the situation only getting worse. The violence has crossed all red lines. I mean, one year ago, people — young people especially — used to say, well, hopefully there won’t be a civil war. And now that fear has been realized. I mean, we had five days of civil conflict, Hezbollah took over half of West Beirut. And essentially, what Lebanon’s losing now in people who are looking to leave are the brains of the country. I mean, you’re looking at young professionals, the people that Lebanon need now. If the conflict continues, people who wanted to come back before who might be established in other countries definitely won’t come back, and those who could help add to the country now and help pull it out of this current conflict, the brains, are looking to get out as well.
Jablonski: How is Lebanon responding to this?
Gilbert: Well, Lebanon can’t do much. I think this is a trend that’s continued throughout Lebanon’s history. The Lebanese Emigration Research Center points to remittances as one way of them keeping track of how many people are leaving. And in 2000, remittances amount to about 10 percent of the country’s total GDP. Now, that’s gone up to about $6 billion, or more than a quarter of the GDP.
Jablonski: Ben Gilbert joining us from Beirut. Thanks so much, Ben.
Gilbert: My pleasure.
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