Lebanon’s dollar crisis dims future of students abroad

Relatives of students studying abroad demonstrate before Lebanese Central Bank as their children have been hit hard by banks forbidding depositors from transferring money overseas. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 07 April 2021

Lebanon’s dollar crisis dims future of students abroad

  • Students told AFP they had moved into cheaper accommodation, taken on jobs or even cut back on meals
  • Parents blame banks of dumping their requests to send to children enrolled abroad $10,000, despite law passed in 2020

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s economic crisis seems to be getting those studying abroad expelled from colleges like Mohammad Sleiman, who studies medicine at Belarus hoping to become his family’s first doctor.
“I’ve got a future and I’m working toward it,” 23-year-old Sleiman said from his bedroom in the capital Minsk, a dream catcher hanging on the wall behind him.
“But if they throw me out of university, my future will be lost. And it’ll be the Lebanese state’s fault.”
As Lebanese banks forbid depositors from transferring their own money abroad, thousands of students who went abroad to pursue studies they could not afford at home are among the hardest hit.
Students told AFP they had moved into cheaper accommodation, taken on jobs or even cut back on meals.
Some had been forced to fly home to Lebanon, with no idea how to return to their studies.
Sleiman said he was so stressed about money that he could hardly concentrate in class.
Back home, his family’s dollar savings have been trapped in the bank since 2019, and the 23-year-old has no idea how he will pay tuition fees when his father can barely borrow enough to send him rent.
Last month, he says his name appeared on a list with other Lebanese threatened with expulsion if they did not pay up.
Lebanon’s parliament passed a law last year to help students like him, but parents say banks systematically turn them away demanding more paperwork.
In south Lebanon, Sleiman’s father said he had been to several protests by parents demanding help from the Lebanese authorities, but to no avail.
Without access to his savings, 48-year-old Moussa Sleiman has to buy $300 for his son each month on the black market at an exorbitant exchange rate.
But his earnings from his toy and cosmetics store, in Lebanese pounds now worth 85 percent less at street value, cannot even begin to cover it.
“I’ve been so worried,” the father of eight said, with his eldest son’s April rent due.
“I’m going to have to go and rack up more debt.”
One student activist said parents had also sold cars and gold jewelry to help their children.
Many pin blame for Lebanon’s worst financial crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war on political mismanagement and corruption.
As the country’s foreign reserves plummet, and amid reports of mass capital flight despite currency controls since 2019, they accuse the ruling class of having plundered their savings.
A law passed in 2020 is supposed to allow parents to access $10,000 per student enrolled abroad in 2019 at the much cheaper official exchange rate. But parents say the banks don’t care.
“They take our requests and dump them in drawers because there’s no more money left to send. They stole it,” said Sleiman’s father.
A handful of parents or grandparents have filed lawsuits against their banks and won, the latest last month.
One of them was able last year to transfer funds to his sons in France and Spain so they could graduate.
Sleiman and fellow parents are looking into doing the same.
And the International Union of Lebanese Youth, covering students in 20 countries, has started working with volunteer lawyers toward filing dozens more cases.
But lawyer and activist Nizar Sayegh said these cases were still rare and complicated by coronavirus lockdowns and banks filing appeals.
Many families also shy away from legal action for fear the banks would then close their account, he said.
In Italy, 20-year-old Reine Kassis said she and fellow cash-strapped Lebanese flatmates were having to delay breakfast till lunch time.
“We eat toast and cheese, then study, study, study until supper,” said the mechanical engineering student in Ferrara.
She says she has received a little help in Italy.
But her brother, 23, had to return from Ukraine to Lebanon to continue studying online because he could not afford the rent.
Their father Maurice Kassis, a retired officer, said he was heartbroken.
“I only had two children so I could spoil them, and educate them properly,” the 54-year-old said in the eastern town of Zahle.
When he retired, he had enough savings stashed away in Lebanese pounds to cover both of them studying abroad.
But today, with the collapse of the Lebanese currency, those pounds would fetch just an eighth of their old value in dollars.
After he has paid off his home loan with his pension each month, he only has the equivalent of $50 left for the whole family.
“How do you educate your children with that?” he asked.
“I’m telling them to find themselves a future abroad.”


Pentagon chief to visit Israel amid Iran talks

Updated 36 min 28 sec ago

Pentagon chief to visit Israel amid Iran talks

  • US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is due to arrive in Jerusalem on Sunday

JERUSALEM: US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is due to arrive in Jerusalem on Sunday, the highest ranked member of President Joe Biden’s administration to visit Israel.
The two-day visit comes as the Biden administration attempts to return to an Iran nuclear deal abandoned by its predecessor — a deal Israel opposes.
Austin is expected to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and armed forces chief Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi.
The trip will also include a tour of the Nevatim air force base and visits to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and to a Jerusalem memorial to fallen soldiers.
Austin arrives days after representatives of the remaining parties to the troubled 2015 nuclear deal launched talks in Vienna on bringing the United States back into it.
Then president Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018.
The Vienna talks are focused not only on lifting crippling economic sanctions Trump reimposed, but also on bringing Iran back into compliance after it responded by suspending several of its own commitments.
All sides said the talks, in which Washington is not participating directly but has the European Union as intermediary, had got off to a good start.
Israel opposes the US attempt to rejoin the accord.
Speaking last week, Netanyahu said Israel would not be bound by its terms.
“An agreement with Iran that would pave the way to nuclear weapons — weapons that threaten our extinction — would not compel us in any way,” Netanyahu said in a speech on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Iran and Israel have both recently attacked each other’s commercial shipping, reports say.
Austin will also visit Germany, the United Kingdom and Belgium on his tour, according to the Pentagon.

Related


Iran orders 10-day shutdown amid 4th wave of coronavirus pandemic

Updated 10 April 2021

Iran orders 10-day shutdown amid 4th wave of coronavirus pandemic

  • The lockdown affects 23 of the country’s 31 provinces, health ministry spokesman Alireza Raisi says
  • Iran has been the epicenter of the pandemic in the Middle East

Iran imposed a 10-day lockdown across most of the country on Saturday to curb the spread of a fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic, state media reported.
The lockdown affects 23 of the country’s 31 provinces, health ministry spokesman Alireza Raisi said. Businesses, schools, theaters and sports facilities have been forced to shut and gatherings are banned during the holy fasting month of Ramadan that begins on Wednesday.
Iran’s coronavirus cases have surpassed 2 million with a new daily average of over 20,000 infections over the past week, according to the health ministry. It has reported more than 64,000 fatalities.
“Unfortunately, today we have entered a fourth wave,” President Hassan Rouhani said in televised remarks. He blamed the surge foremost on the variant that first emerged in the UK which spread to Iran earlier this year from neighboring Iraq.
Other factors included widespread travel, weddings, and celebrations during the Iranian New Year holidays that began on March 20, he said.
The UK variant is now predominant in the country, and 257 cities and towns are in red alert, Raisi said.
Iran has been the epicenter of the pandemic in the Middle East. In February, it closed several crossing points with Iraq in an effort to stem the spread of the UK variant.
The country’s vaccination drive has also been slow going. Tehran says it has received more than 400,000 of 2 million Sputnik V vaccines on order from Russia, and that it is awaiting delivery of 4.2 million AstraZeneca shots.
It has also received 250,000 doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine and part of an order of 500,000 doses of India’s COVAXIN.
With a population of 83 million, Iran had hoped to secure over 2 million vaccines by March 20 to vaccinate mainly health care workers. It is developing at least four local vaccine candidates, one in cooperation with Cuba, which are expected to reach production in a few months.


Iran starts up advanced centrifuges in new nuclear deal breach

Updated 10 April 2021

Iran starts up advanced centrifuges in new nuclear deal breach

  • President Hassan Rouhani inaugurates cascades of 164 IR-6 centrifuges and 30 IR-5 devices at Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment plant

TEHRAN: Iran announced Saturday it has started up advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges in a breach of its undertakings under a troubled 2015 nuclear deal, days after talks on rescuing it got underway.

President Hassan Rouhani officially inaugurated the cascades of 164 IR-6 centrifuges and 30 IR-5 devices at Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment plant in a ceremony broadcast by state television.

The television aired no images of the cascades but broadcast a link with engineers at the plant who said they had introduced uranium hexafluoride gas to the cascades after receiving the order from Rouhani.

Iran’s latest move to step up uranium enrichment follows an opening round of talks Tuesday with representatives of the remaining parties to the nuclear deal on bringing the United States back into the deal.

Former President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018.

The Vienna talks are focused not only on lifting crippling economic sanctions Trump reimposed, but also on bringing Iran back into compliance after it responded by suspending several of its own commitments.

All sides said the talks, in which Washington is not participating directly but has the European Union as intermediary, had got off to a good start.

The IR-5 and IR-6 centrifuges allow uranium to be enriched more quickly and in greater amounts than the Iran’s first-generation devices, which are the only ones that the 2015 deal allows it to use.

Rouhani again underlined at the ceremony, which coincided with Iran’s National Nuclear Technology Day, that Tehran’s nuclear program is solely for “peaceful” purposes.

Related


Guelleh re-elected president of Djibouti with 98.58% of vote: official count

Updated 10 April 2021

Guelleh re-elected president of Djibouti with 98.58% of vote: official count

DJIBOUTI: Ismail Omar Guelleh was re-elected for a fifth term as president of Djibouti with more than 98 percent of the vote, according to provisional results announced by Interior Minister Moumin Ahmed Cheick Friday night.
“President Ismail Omar Guelleh obtained 167,535 votes, which is 98.58 percent,” he told public broadcaster RTD, adding that confirmed results would be released soon by the Constitutional Council.


US put forward ‘very serious’ ideas to Iran on reviving nuclear deal: official

Updated 10 April 2021

US put forward ‘very serious’ ideas to Iran on reviving nuclear deal: official

WASHINGTON: The United States offered “very serious” ideas to Iran on how to revive a nuclear deal during talks in Vienna but is waiting for Iran to show the same “seriousness,” a US official said Friday.
“The United States team put forward a very serious idea and demonstrated a seriousness of purpose on coming back into compliance if Iran comes back into compliance,” the official told reporters as talks broke for the weekend.
But the official said the United States was waiting for its efforts to be “reciprocated” by Iran.
“We saw some signs of it but certainly not enough. There’s still question marks about whether Iran has the willingness to... take the pragmatic approach that the United States has taken to come back into compliance with its obligations under the deal,” he said.
President Joe Biden supports a return to the 2015 agreement trashed by his predecessor Donald Trump under which Iran drastically scaled back nuclear work in return for promises of sanctions relief.
Iran has demanded that the United States first lift all sanctions imposed by Trump, which include a sweeping unilateral ban on its oil exports, before it falls back in line with obligations it suspended.
The US official indicated that the major stumbling block in the initial talks was not the order of compliance but rather which sanctions were under discussion as Iran is demanding an end to all US restrictions.
Iran’s position is “not consistent with the deal itself because under the deal the US retains the right to impose sanctions for non-nuclear reasons, whether it’s terrorism or human rights violations or interference with our elections,” the official said.
“All sanctions that are inconsistent with the JCPOA and are inconsistent with the benefits that Iran expects from the JCPOA we are prepared to lift. That doesn’t mean all of them because there are some that are legitimate sanctions,” he said, using the acronym for the accord’s official name.
Iran refused to meet directly with US negotiator Rob Malley during the talks led by the European Union, whose envoys shuttled between the two sides in different hotels. Talks are set to resume in the same format next week.