Lebanese diaspora in France swings into action to help Beirut
11 August 2020, 17:04
Many Lebanese in France are collecting money and essential items to help their fellow citizens struggling in the aftermath of the explosion in Beirut that occurred last week.
There are around 37,600 Lebanese nationals currently living in France according to data from the French national statistic institute (INSEE).
Both countries have had close ties as Lebanon was placed under French mandate for more than 20 years, following the great war.
About 1.3 million Lebanese live outside of Lebanon according to a 2018 survey by Information International — which equates to about 24% of the country’s population.
“The locals have been helping to clean, search the debris, assist the injured and look for the missing persons. As expatriates, we can only help from afar,” Raymond Hajj from “Meghterbin Mejtemiin” (“Diaspora United”) told Euronews.
The network has been collaborating with the non-profit organisation Impact Lebanon which has raised more than 5.8 million (about 6.5 million).
In most cases, the money that is being collected will go to local NGOs which are “apolitical”, “non-sectarian”, “registered” and “recognised”.
“We have a team […] dedicated to vetting other NGOs and leading careful examinations of their suitability to receive our funds,” wrote Impact Lebanon on their crowdfunding page, promising full transparency.
“We do not trust our government at all. This is why we rely on solidarity because our leaders are often missing,” said Hajj.
“It is important to highlight that it was the people themselves who gathered the day after the blast to help. This is what rallied the diaspora,” explained Tarek Sayde, who set up a donation collection in collaboration with the town council of the city of Limoges.
Facebook enabled individuals to initiate private fundraisers too. Lebanese student Rebecca Chahine is one of them and hopes to collect up to 10,000 through Habibi Beyrouth. She promises the money will be “directly” forwarded to local organisations and not to banks which are “corrupt”.
“It’s us, the youth, we will make a difference,” she says.
Alongside fundraising, other organisations like Bordeaux-based AquiCdre have been trying to collect items — clothes, drugs, diapers, etc — to be sent to Lebanese in need.
However, “since the port is closed”, they have not able to send material and will collect money for France’s Red Cross instead, AquiCdre spokesperson Layal Massara told Euronews.
Her organisation has also been trying to reach out to universities as “many students in Lebanon are giving up on their degree for lack of money to keep studying,” she says.
People have gathered in support of Lebanon throughout France.
“These moments of union are important,” said Paul Assouad from Les Amis du Liban (“Friends of Lebanon”) in France’s southern city of Toulouse.
“It enables Lebanese who are away from their country to feel less isolated,” he told Euronews.
A ‘long historic friendship between two people’
“Lebanon and France have had the best relationship for decades,” Hajj said. “This is a long historic friendship between two peoples”.
“France is like our mother,” explains Massara who referenced France’s active presence in Lebanon in the 20th century. “We learn French as a child,” adds Massara.
“Our link is almost thousand-year-old,” Assouad highlights, referring to French crusaders who settled in the region.
At the end of World War I, Lebanon was placed under French military administration until independence was formally proclaimed on November 22, 1943.
The Free French government, led by Charles De Gaulle, showed an unwillingness to let go of their control over the region.
After an insurrection and a diplomatic intervention by the British, the French transferred powers to the newly-elected national Lebanese government.
It was not until the total withdrawal of British and French troops in 1946 that Lebanon became wholly independent.