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Lebanon’s financial pains eased by remittances over holidays



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BEIRUT – Youssef Safouri wanders through a noisy Beirut Christmas market, where hundreds of families flock to the gift stalls of Lebanese designers claiming a severe economic crisis has taken over. go the savings of millions of dollars.

Safouri is one of thousands of Lebanese who fled the country when The economy started to decline at the end of 2019. They have now become a lifeline for families back home who receive remittances from abroad and carry cash in their suitcases on vacations. Three-quarters of the population is currently falling into poverty.

From her new home in Canada, Safouri, an accountant, sends a portion of her monthly salary home to her family to help cover skyrocketing monthly expenses ranging from her own generator and water bills to the price of her home. food increased.

“Everybody is having a hard time getting money out of the bank and trying to cover basic expenses at home,” he said. “I was forced to leave the country and my family to earn money abroad and send it back home.”

Lebanon will receive about $6.8 billion in remittances this year, up from nearly $6.4 billion in 2021, as they continue to be a core component of its shrinking and ravaged economy. of the country. The World Bank estimates they are worth nearly 38% of the country’s gross domestic product.

In addition to the amount of remittances sent back from abroad, many overseas Vietnamese return during the holidays. Bring much-needed cash dollars.

Last month, Caretaker Tourism Minister Walid Nassar said the crisis-stricken country expected about 700,000 people to visit the country for the holiday season, most of them of Lebanese descent. He estimates they will bring in about $1.5 billion between December and mid-January.

Beirut International Airport is expected to welcome 6.1 million travelers this year, about 400,000 more than in 2021, with daily passenger traffic doubling during the holiday season.

Since Lebanon’s financial crisis more than three years ago, banks have essentially locked depositors out of their own savings as they suffer losses worth tens of billions of dollars. The country’s mismanaged economy has for decades been mired in corruption and wasteful spending.

Before its fragile economy collapsed, Lebanon had a sizable middle class that could spend money to spend Christmas and other holidays with family.

The crisis has forced most people to make drastic lifestyle changes, unable to afford the gifts and skyrocketing Christmas celebrations.

Farah Jurdi, a mother of two, said her husband’s work in Saudi Arabia over the past decade has been crucial for her to avoid compromising on her children’s quality of life. With the economic crisis, that became even more severe, as he also had to help his parents and siblings cover their expenses.

“I was always worried that one day he would have to go back to Lebanon, because life would not be the same,” she said.

Mohamad Faour, assistant professor of Finance at American University in Beirut, said remittances have become necessary not only to celebrate the holidays but for many families in Lebanon to cover basic expenses. the best in the family.

“Prices are slowly returning to pre-crisis levels, but wage growth is nowhere near that,” he said. “Someone earning a salary of 5 million Lebanese pounds (about $113) cannot buy a generator bill unless some relative sends them US dollars.”

At the Christmas market, where hundreds of families stroll through a maze of decorated stalls and enjoy live music, most refuse to talk about the money they receive from relatives abroad and the changes they have made. change in the lifestyle they have to endure.

But the planner behind the event admits they had to put in extra effort to make their Christmas market this year more affordable. They’ve included more affordable pop-up gift shops and reduced entry fees for kids.

“People living in Lebanon need to get some fresh air or a change of scenery,” said organizer Cynthia Wardi.

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