Lebanon’s dollar crisis obscures future for overseas students

BEIRUT: The economic crisis in Lebanon appears to be pushing out those studying abroad from universities like Mohammad Sleiman, who is studying medicine in Belarus in the hope of becoming his family’s first doctor.
“I have a future and I’m working on it,” Sleiman, 23, said from his bedroom in the capital Minsk, with a dream catcher hanging on the wall behind him.
“But if they throw me out of college, my future will be lost. And it will be the fault of the Lebanese state.
With Lebanese banks banning depositors from transferring their own money abroad, thousands of students who have gone abroad to pursue studies they could not afford at home are among the hardest hit.
Students told AFP they had moved to cheaper accommodation, taken a job or even reduced their meals.
Some had been forced to return home to Lebanon, without knowing how to return to their studies.
Sleiman said he was so stressed out about money that he could barely concentrate in class.
Back home, his family’s dollar savings have been trapped in the bank since 2019, and the 23-year-old has no idea how he will pay for school fees when his father can barely borrow. enough to send him rent.
Last month, he said his name was on a list with other Lebanese facing deportation if they didn’t pay.
Lebanon’s parliament passed a law last year to help students like him, but parents say banks routinely refuse them, demanding more paperwork.
In southern Lebanon, Sleiman’s father said he attended several protests by relatives asking for help from the Lebanese authorities, but to no avail.
Without access to his savings, Moussa Sleiman, 48, has to buy 300 dollars each month for his son on the black market at an exorbitant exchange rate.
But his earnings from his toy and cosmetics store, in Lebanese pounds now worth 85% less than market value, can’t even begin to cover it.
“I was so worried,” said the father of eight, with his eldest son’s April rent.
“I’m going to have to go and accumulate more debt.”
A student activist said parents also sold cars and gold jewelry to help their children.
Many attribute the worst financial crisis in Lebanon since the 1975-1990 civil war to political mismanagement and corruption.
As the country’s foreign exchange reserves collapse and amid reports of massive capital flight despite currency controls since 2019, they accuse the ruling class of plundering their economies.
A law passed in 2020 is supposed to give parents access to $ 10,000 per student enrolled abroad in 2019 at the much cheaper official exchange rate. But parents say the banks don’t care.
“They take our requests and throw them in drawers because there is no money left to send. They stole it, ”Sleiman’s father said.
A handful of parents or grandparents have sued their banks and won, in the past month.
One of them was able, last year, to transfer funds to his sons in France and Spain so that they could graduate.
Sleiman and his other parents plan to do the same.
And the Lebanese International Youth Union, which covers students in 20 countries, has started working with volunteer lawyers to clear dozens more cases.
But lawyer and activist Nizar Sayegh said such cases were still rare and complicated by coronavirus lockdowns and banks filing appeals.
Many families are also avoiding lawsuits for fear that the banks will close their accounts, he said.
In Italy, Queen Kassis, 20, said she and her cash-strapped Lebanese roommates had to delay breakfast until lunchtime.
“We eat toast and cheese and then study, study, study until supper,” the mechanical engineering student in Ferrara said.
She says she received some help in Italy.
But his 23-year-old brother had to return from Ukraine to Lebanon to continue his studies online because he could not afford the rent.
Their father, Maurice Kassis, a retired officer, said he was heartbroken.
“I only had two children so I could spoil them and educate them properly,” said the 54-year-old in the eastern town of Zahle.
When he retired, he had enough savings in Lebanese pounds to cover the two studies abroad.
But today, with the collapse of the Lebanese currency, these pounds would only represent an eighth of their former dollar value.
After paying off her mortgage with her pension each month, she only has the equivalent of $ 50 left for the whole family.
“How do you educate your children about this?” He asked.
“I tell them to find a future abroad.”

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