The August 4 Beirut port explosion did not only destroy half of the capital, kill hundreds and injure thousands, but it also drove many people to give up on the country and decide once and for all to leave their homeland in search of new lives.
A few minutes after the blast, a friend of mine saw her next-door neighbor, bleeding and still in total shock, wet from taking a shower, wearing only shorts and flip flops and dragging a suitcase. Holding his passport he walked to the airport more than 7 kilometers away.
For the Lebanese, emigration always was, and remains today, a serious option. As their country has time and again tested their resilience, it has driven many of them to settle around the world with a diaspora exceeding 10 million.
Unfortunately for many, this option has been curtailed by the current political and economic breakdown as the Lebanese state has recently declared that it can no longer issue or renew passports to meet such high demand. Stocks are depleted, and it’s a problem which the Lebanese Security General in charge of passport controls cannot replenish without the necessary funds.
The passport crisis is not merely one caused by excessive demand, but rather is an analogy to the rapid spiraling collapse of Lebanon. The country’s political establishment has yet to take any rational steps to mitigate its impending crash landing.
In real terms, a passport is not merely a travel document but rather a set of rights and duties which binds its carrier from the issuing country with a document which can be a blessing. In the case of the Lebanese the passport situation is a curse, making the ability to get visas to travel a constant nightmare.
More than 60 per cent of those who have applied to renew or obtain a new passport have yet to collect it. There is no point in making travel plans, at least for the foreseeable future, but those waiting have already paid $45 for the passport. It’s anyone’s guess how long they will wait.
There are many people in Lebanon that are desperate for their passport to exit the country and set up home in faraway lands. These are a growing number who do not see a future in the country and are waiting for the right moment to depart. They will join the hundreds and thousands of their compatriots who have already emigrated. Lots of them have no plans to return.
While emigration has for long been Lebanon’s unofficial national sport, when the country sees a 346 per cent spike during 2021 in the number of people leaving its shores it has dangerous implications. Few of those emigrating see any chance of the land of the Cedars ever rising up again. The lack of progress of the Beirut port explosion investigation compounds this.
In reality, the Lebanese have few options even if they decide to exit the country.
The global economic fallouts from the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the fact that many Arab Gulf states consider some Lebanese as a security risk makes emigration an unsavory route. The hundreds of people who decided to venture onto the migrant death boats in attempts to escape to Europe searching for better lives didn’t require passports. Beware, it’s something other Lebanese might consider given the unfolding situation.
Sooner or later Lebanon will be able to cater to the excessive demand for new passports. Eager Lebanese will have their precious documents to tuck away in their closets with what remains of their savings.
But, their real anxiety will fester as long as they do not address the crux of their problem. A passport is only as good as the state that issues it, and as it stands the Lebanese passport is not worth the ink that it is printed on. Even as potential members of the diaspora, their search for better lives will always bear on the hearts of those left behind in a country which needs to reform or perish.