DAMASCUS - Syrian Fadi Rustom is back home in Damascus after 10 years in Lebanon. The restaurant he worked in, in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley closed shortly after Israel began attacking Hizbullah targets there.
Israel has been bombing Lebanon since 12 July.
“I used to earn $1,000 a month,” Rustom says, “but in Syria I think I will get just $600.”
Syria’s Interior Minister, Bassam Abdel Majid, says more than 81,000 Syrians have fled from Lebanon over the past few days, making the short but treacherous journey back to their homeland.
Having worked mostly in Lebanon’s tourism, agriculture and construction industries, many have already started looking for new jobs in Syria, a country that already suffers up to 20 per cent unemployment.
Zyad Masoud was also working as a chef in a restaurant, though in Beirut. “I will search for a new job in a Damascus restaurant, although the wage was higher in Lebanon,” he says.
Syrians have mixed views on how their economy will cope with these homecomers.
“The majority of those workers used to work in construction, which is at a low level now in Syria,” says Dr Nabil al-Saman, a prominent economist in Syria. “This situation will undoubtedly be a burden and a pressure on Syria but only for a short while. Hopefully, when the crisis is over in Lebanon, they will be needed once again there to help in the reconstruction process.”
Al-Saman says this mass return of migrant workers is having a negative impact on both the Syrian and Lebanese economies, particularly the latter, which has been relying heavily on cheap Syrian labour.
Dr Nabil Sukkar, founder of The Syrian Consulting Bureau for Development & Investment, believes the Syrian economy will absorb most of the returnees. He points out that this is not the first time Syrians have left Lebanon en masse.
“Ever since the assassination of [former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik] Hariri in February 2005, Syrians in Lebanon have been returning to their country in great numbers,” he says. “So we are used to this. And you must also understand that the Muslim and Arab culture is very accommodating. Syrians are sharing their homes and whatever they can with the people returning.”
According to statements in the Lebanese media, there were some 500,000 Syrians working in Lebanon before Syria withdrew its troops from Lebanon in April 2005. Today, it is hard to put a figure on how many were left in Lebanon, and even harder to predict if and when they might return.
“My employer in Lebanon called me asking me to go back,” says 28-year-old Zyad Salman, a recent returnee and father of two. “But the news is bad and I will not go back.”
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