Lebanese Emigration, A brief Introduction

David Abichaker

November 11, 2009

It is estimated today that about 10 to 16 million people of Lebanese descent live outside Lebanon while only about four million live in the country itself.

Estimates about the numbers, the religious and regional characteristics of the emigrants differ widely. Furthermore, the definition of person of Lebanese descent is one than can be more or less broadly defined to include descendants who are deeply rooted in their new home countries and people of partial Lebanese heritage. Nevertheless, there has been renewed interest in studying the Lebanese emigration phenomena, its contributions to the world community and in turn its impact on Lebanon, native or ancestral land. Some of those studies would attempt to better document the number of emigrants and their socio-economic characteristics. Here I hope to provide a brief introduction to the recent Lebanese story of emigration. My references are cited in the foot notesi,ii

The Lebanese emigration is a phenomenon that goes way back in history, taking its roots from the Phoenician times and growing through the 21st century. In modern history however, the emigration of the Lebanese can be grouped into two significant periods: The first is the “Ottoman-era migration” between 1800 and 1940, The Second is from 1940 to present day.

The “Ottoman-era migration” was strongly influenced by the confessional conflicts of 1860 and the First World War of 1914. During that period, Egypt was among the first destinations, followed by France, the United States, Australia, Brazil, Mexico, many of the Latin American countries and later South and West African countries.

Early on, during that first wave, people seeking opportunities and spurred on by stories told by missionaries or by the successes of earlier pioneers, braved the dangers of travels to explore far away lands. In spite of the difficulties and adversities many have accomplished great successes and their communities flourished. Here, for illustration I include the stories of the first Lebanese on record to the United States and the first to Africa.

First Lebanese to the United States

Antonio Bishallany, from Mount-Lebanon, is the first Lebanese on record to emigrate to America. He was sent by Protestants Missionaries to study theology. He arrived in New York City in 1854. Bishallanay lived in Boston, studying theology and teaching Arabic, until his untimely death in 1856 on his 29th birthday

The first Lebanese Pioneer to AfricaIt was between 1880 and 1885 that the first Lebanese arrived in the Transvaal. He did not come accidentally, as foolishly suggested by some, having lost direction on his way to America. In fact, he came like thousands of others from Europe and elsewhere because of the discovery of precious stones and minerals at this end of the African continent. He was known as Elias Mansour Eid from Beit-ed-Dine who remained in Ferriera’s Mining Camp for no more than 10 years because, having amassed a tidy stash of gold sovereigns in that short time, he returned to his hometown. His financial success story inspired hundreds of husbands and fathers, courageous adventurers, to make similar sea voyages on cattle boats sailing between Port Said and Delagoa Bay. iii

The Second era is mostly marked by the wave during the “Civil war” beginning in 1975 and continuing till the Cedars Revolution of 2005. During this wave the United States of America, Canada and Australia were the main destinations of the Lebanese emigrants, followed by Europe (France, Germany, Britain, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Spain). The percentage of those who emigrated to Latin America and Asian countries was smaller and negligible compared to the earlier era.

The return of peace and stability in 1992 and the launch of the reconstruction process had not initially put a hold on or minimize the Lebanese emigration. It peaked in 1993 and had expanded to include new social and religious categories. Some figures suggest, however, that the wave of emigration started decreasing progressively in 1994, and although it continued after 2005, it is now at a much smaller rate. In fact many of those who had left during the war had started to return.

It has been estimated that the number of people who emigrated from Lebanon during the most recent era, to be about 1.2 million persons. It is further estimated, that additionally there are over 2.3 million people who were born to them in the countries of immigrations. It is worth noting that exact figures are very difficult to compile especially due to the lack

of any official documentation from the Lebanese government. These estimates vary greatly depending on the sources as they may be used to serve political and/or confessional ends.

i Information-International. Facts about Lebanese Emigration (1991-2000) Part 1; Nov. 7, 2001. www.information-international.com/pdf/emigration_report_english-1.pdf

ii The Lebanese Emigration Research Center (LERC) at Notre Dame University (NDU).

iii The Lebanese of South Africa One People,One Origin, One Destiny. By Jimmy Lebos


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