Lebanese banks aren’t letting citizens withdraw their own money. The diaspora in Australia is stepping in

Lebanon’s dire economic crisis was emphasised to the world this week after a man entered a bank with a shotgun and a can of petrol demanding to withdraw his own money.
Lebanese banks have put limits on how much of their own funds citizens can withdraw, pushing 42-year-old Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein, who needed money to pay for his sick father’s treatment, to the limit.
Mr Hussein eventually surrendered his weapon and was arrested, with no one physically hurt from the incident.

But the scenes have shone a spotlight on the country’s long-lasting economic turmoil, which many citizens blame on corruption and economic mismanagement.

In 2021, inflation in Lebanon was at 154.8 per cent, according to the World Bank. That’s 25 times Australia’s current inflation rate of 6.1 per cent.
To help deal with the economic crisis, Lebanon’s citizens are dependent on the diaspora in countries such as Australia.
Ali Hammoud, who’s part of the Lebanese community in Australia, told SBS News that money from the diaspora plays a major role in helping people back in Lebanon survive.
“In Australia, the community gives so much help, just to keep the families and friends surviving,” Mr Hammoud said.

“We don’t give them money for luxury, but to keep them alive.

“Because giving $100 or $200 a month to a family in Lebanon, could really give them enough help to survive that month.
“Giving $200 could keep a family of five people alive.”
The Lebanese pound has devalued more than 90 per cent against the US dollar since 2019. In 2019, one US dollar was worth an official rate of 1,500 Lebanese pounds.
It was reported in May one US dollar was worth an unofficial black market rate, widely used across Lebanon, of 35,600 pounds.
Mr Hammoud says the money goes to helping pay for necessities such as medication, electricity and fuel.
“You [in Lebanon] could have electricity for only one or two hours per day,” he said.

“The powerful private sector called for the provider of electricity to become private, so you have to pay high fees to be able to have at least five hours of power per day.”

As of 2016, there were over 78,000 people in Australia who were born in Lebanon, according to Census data by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
Over 87 per cent of those people are Australian citizens.
Adjunct professor at Western Sydney University, Dr Paul Tabar, told SBS News that aid to Lebanon is channelled through three main streams: family, villages and religion, in that order.
“The crisis is so deep, to an extent that it has affected the livelihoods or rather the lifespan of everyday people in Lebanon,” Dr Tabar said.
“This means that people have, as a result of the crisis, focused more on family help and family assistance, compared to previous times.

“Village Association and village loyalty is also very strong. This is reflected historically.

“People coming from the same village, normally when they find themselves with a sufficient number of them in one place, come together and form an association.
“So, they call it, for instance, the Association of such and such village.
“These associations are now being used to send aid in the form of money, food or medication to villagers back home.
“You first have family, most importantly, who are helped from here by family members, then village associations, helping villagers at home who belong to the same village, and also religious associations.”

Lebanon’s population is comprised of three evenly popular religious beliefs: Maronite Christians, Shiite Muslims, and Sunni Muslims.

Financial hardship

The majority of Lebanese Australians born in Lebanon came to Australia between 1970 and 2000, during the country’s civil war.
NSW has the largest Lebanese community, with 57,000 people born in Lebanon.
Many members of the Lebanese community in NSW have condemned Lebanese politicians for corruption during the last years of financial hardship.
This was highlighted two years ago after a catastrophic explosion in Beirut killed 218 people and injured 7,000 others.

Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay, head of the Maronite Catholic Eparchy of Saint Maron of Sydney, has accused the government of mismanaging the disaster.

“4 August 2020 is a date forever etched in the minds and hearts of every Lebanese citizen and immigrant, a day when the government entrusted to care for its people killed them instead,” Bishop Tarabay wrote in a Facebook post.
“730 days and not one person responsible for this crime, this tragedy, has been brought to justice. The Lebanese people are tired of waiting.
“They deserve to know the truth of who killed their loved ones and who was the cause of the blood that ran through the streets of Beirut.
“We pray on this morning for Lebanon that with the help of the international community, it is able to rise again and, as Pope Francis prayed, “remaining faithful to its vocation of being a land of peace and pluralism, where communities of different religions can live in fraternity…”
The Maronite Catholic Eparchy of Saint Maron of Sydney plays a major role in raising funds for people in Lebanon experiencing financial hardship.

Lebanon’s Muslim community in Australia also plays a major role, through such organisations as the Lebanese Muslim Association, which has run campaigns including the 2020 Lebanon Relief Ramadan Appeal.

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