Lebanon is the Arab country with the longest history of emigration accompanied by a history of remittances. It is almost a fact that every Lebanese household has been touched by emigration, whether a family member or a friend. According to Eliane Fersan, the earliest example of modern Lebanese migration dates to the 1850s when Anthonius al-Bashalani set foot in America. Ever since both emigration and remittances shaped Lebanon.
The change in the spread of the Lebanese diaspora over time
Lebanon has witnessed several waves of emigration since the 19th century. The three main emigration waves are:
1- Mid 19th century to World War 1 (1850 – 1914)
According to the research paper “Remittances and Post-Conflict Development in Lebanon”, in the 1860s, the Lebanese started to migrate to Egypt and later to America in order to escape the compulsory military service and to seek better living conditions.
However, this changed by the 20th century. According to the book Atlas of Lebanon written by Eric Verdeil and Bruno Dewailly, another wave of emigration was caused by the severe famine during World War I and the establishment of the French mandate. During the first half of the 20th century, the Lebanese diaspora was mainly concentrated in two regions: North America, especially in the United States, and South America, especially in Brazil and Argentina. Egypt became a secondary destination.
2- During the civil war (1975 – 1990)
According to Dr. Paul Tabar, it is estimated that 990,000 people left the country accounting for 40% of the population. During the civil war, Lebanon witnessed almost total destruction. This resulted in an unprecedented increase in Lebanese immigrants in Australia and Canada along with the USA, France, Germany, and the Gulf countries.
3- After the end of the civil war (1990 – present)
Ever since the civil war ended, Lebanon has been undergoing a process of “brain drain”. As per Dr. Paul Tabar, one major development in Lebanese migration since the 80s has been an increase in skilled migration. The emigration of highly educated and skilled Lebanese people in parallel with the demand for manpower made the GCC the favorite destination for the Lebanese to emigrate to.
Today, Lebanon is seeing a new wave of emigration. According to Beirut Today’s article, Lebanon witnessed 215,653 people leaving the country between 2017 and 2021. Emigration spiked again after the deepening financial crisis that started in 2019.
The effect of the Lebanese Diaspora on Remittances
Lebanon has long depended on the Lebanese diaspora and money sent back home to survive. Remittances play a vital role in the life of Lebanon and its people serving as a safety net, compensating for the lack of public goods, and alleviating poverty.
Since the Lebanese civil war and the start of the second emigration wave, the Lebanese diaspora has spread on all continents of the world, excluding Antarctica. There’s an estimated 15+ million Lebanese people living outside of Lebanon. As the Lebanese diaspora increased, inflows to Lebanon increased as well. A survey conducted by Shoghig Kasparian in 2009 indicated that 49% of the Lebanese diaspora provided financial support to their families back home.
According to Guita Hourani, between 1990 and 2003, Lebanon ranked 7th amongst the top 20 main recipient developing countries that rely on remittances and 3rd in terms of contribution to GDP.
As the Lebanese diaspora keeps on growing and the situation in Lebanon keeps on deteriorating, seeing its GDP halve from 2020 to 2022, the effects of remittances are becoming more prevalent. Today, according to the World Bank, Lebanon ranks first in terms of remittance contribution to GDP, 54%, and second top recipient in the MENA region by amount. Due to changes in the regions where the Lebanese diaspora has relocated, inward remittance corridors have also shifted. Currently, the highest number of remittance inflows to Lebanon comes primarily from the Arab countries, (43.3%), followed by North America,(15.2%).
Throughout history, the Lebanese diaspora has shown a huge desire to remain connected to their homeland and families. These ties, mainly expressed through remittances and regular travels back to their homeland, helped the Lebanese population sustain during the wars and crises the country has and is facing.
Purpl is committed to empowering the diaspora connection to their home country by democratizing cross-border money transfer flows. This will allow the Lebanese diaspora to send money back home in a faster, easier, and safer way.
Written by: Mayssa Abillama