Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Heightened political tensions accelerate troubling brain drain

Heightened political tensions accelerate troubling brain drain
By Agence France Presse (AFP)

BEIRUT: Plunged into a fresh political crisis between the anti-Syrian majority government and the opposition led by Hizbullah, the Lebanese people are united in anxiety over the future. Some are determined to pack up and leave. Others are resolved more than ever to stay. "We have never seen this level of brain drain," says Carole Contavelis, director of a headhunting agency in Beirut. "It happened all of a sudden after the summer war" with Israel, adds Contevalis, who launched her agency seven years ago after completing her studies in France. In recent weeks she has seen a growing exodus of educated Lebanese who were once registered with her company and looking for work in Lebanon, but are now leaving, mainly for Arab countries. "Out of 40 candidates in my files who were seeking jobs before the [July-August] war, 30 have today left for foreign countries," she says. A child of Lebanon's Civil War years (1975-90), even Contevalis says she is ready to leave if she finds work abroad. "After the [Civil] War ended, we had new confidence in the country, we came back. But we see today that all these years of war have led us to nothing." Above all, Contevalis says she is "disgusted to see that this country never learns anything from its mistakes."

Among those who are still determined to stay, many are apprehensive about their future. "We are a mosaic. We will never have a united Lebanon," says Mike, a 62-year-old barber in central Beirut who never sought to leave after his seven siblings trickled to Canada over the past 40 years. "Many people around me want to leave. The first consequence of the crisis has of course been a drain brain," he adds. Mike is determined to stay in Lebanon because, he says, "happiness for me, is here." At the neighboring of American University of Beirut campus, Salam, 21, is planning to leave the country once she completes her dietician studies. "There is unemployment, political instability. There is no future for us in Lebanon," she says. The only obstacle to her plans is her family. "I am a woman. They don't want to let me leave," she adds. At a nearby laboratory, agronomy student Rita, 27, is determined to stay. "Even if I am not well paid, I will stay. Contracts are not stable, and they are only short-term. But one has to try. After all the cycles of war, all will be fine again. It is a cycle," she says. After 10 days of protesting on Downtown Beirut, the opposition camp has warned of other acts of civil disobedience. The Western-backed government has repeatedly urged a return to talks, while Hizbullah has stood firm in its demands for a unity government. - AFP

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