Special report: Lebanese-Brazilians

I have recently completed a month-long trip to Brazil in which I was reporting extensively on the Lebanese-Brazilian diaspora (and watching the World Cup!) For those that don’t know, there are perhaps twice as many Brazilians of Lebanese descent as there are people inside Lebanon itself. They are also hugely powerful and economically successful.

One of the first ships to take Lebanese people to Brazil

One of the first ships to take Lebanese people to Brazil

As such I spent a few weeks meeting senior Lebanese-Brazilians, including an interview with Michel Temer – Brazil’s vice-president. I also wrote an extensive history of Lebanese emmigration to Brazil, which was fascinating to research and write. I have copied and pasted the first part of it below.

You can view all the articles here.

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‘This generation of Syrians may be lost if we don’t get help’

This article originally appeared in the Times Education Supplement

Elias Bou Saab, Lebanon’s new minister of education, does not mince his words. “Without more support, the Lebanese education system may collapse. It is that serious,” he says.

The population of the small Middle Eastern country, home to just over 4 million citizens, has swollen by more than a quarter over the past three years. As Syria’s uprising has grown into a vicious civil war, more than a million people have fled across the border into Lebanon. This influx has driven the country’s public education system to the brink. Continue reading

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Aid workers adjust to increasing violence in Lebanon

This article was published by IRIN, the UN’s press service, on March 3

BEIRUT, 3 March 2014 (IRIN) – A few weeks ago, the head of security for a charity in Lebanon got the kind of call you never want to get. “One of our staff has been kidnapped,” the voice on the other end said. “She was at a checkpoint an hour ago and no one has heard from her since.”

The panic turned out to be misplaced – the woman had taken an unexpected turn and had forgotten to radio in – but it indicates the difficulties of working in an increasingly violent country.

charity

Lebanon has averaged over a car bomb per week so far in 2014, with the majority on the outskirts of the capital, Beirut. The alleged culprits have largely been al-Qaeda-affiliated groups often targeting areas traditionally run by the Shiite political party Hezbollah, which is fighting in Syria on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad. On top of this, there have been a string of kidnappings in recent years, while the country’s second city Tripoli is trapped in a low-level civil war.

For a country that underwent a relative period of peace from 2007 until late 2012, the uptick in violence over the past 18 months has been severe, with fears of a return to the civil war that tore the country apart from 1975 until 1990.

At the same time, hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees have fled the civil war next door (UNHCR has registered over 935,000 in Lebanon). To adjust to this, most charities in the country have scaled up their operations rapidly. The Danish Refugee Council (DRC), the largest NGO in the country, had 15 Lebanon staff when the Syria crisis started in early 2011. Currently they have more than 500.

Trying to manage these huge increases in operations while ensuring staff are kept safe has been a challenge that requires increasingly complicated responses. The primary move has been to scale up their security teams: until 2012 almost no NGOs had dedicated international security experts, now the bulk of major NGOs do.

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Interactive guide to the new Lebanese government

I co-wrote an interactive guide to the new Lebanese government, briefly profiling each of the 24 ministers.   Have a look here

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Child labor climbs among Iraqi refugees in Lebanon

This article was published by IRIN, the UN’s press service, on February 4

BEIRUT, 3 February 2014 (IRIN) – Ali Al Wasate may only be 13, but he has been forced to grow up. No longer in school, he has begun the painstaking search for work to help his family pay the bills in Beirut, Lebanon.

(Copyright: IRIN)

(Copyright: IRIN)

It was not always this way. When he was younger, living in Baghdad, his stepfather Ahmed had a well-paid government job, and Ali attended a good school. Nine years after the US-led invasion of Iraq, they felt that they had survived the worst of the situation. Then one day, everything changed.

“I was coming home from work one day, and two men with beards were waiting,” Ahmed said. “They accused me of being a spy and told me to leave the neighbourhood before it was too late. I asked them who sent them, but they told me it was dangerous to ask those kinds of questions.”

Convinced their lives were at risk, the Wasates packed up and fled to Lebanon. There, they became part of a small community of between 6,000 and 7,000 Iraqi refugees awaiting resettlement in a third country.

The family wanted Ali to continue studying, but when they started looking for a place to enrol him they were struck by the country’s high prices. Basics in Lebanon, such as rent, are often more than double the cost of those in Iraq. “We brought money that we thought would last two years. It was gone in six months,” Ahmed said.

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Lebanon wary as Hague trial begins

This article was published by IRIN on 15 January

These are worrying times for Lebanon; in late December a bomb exploded in the capital, Beirut, killing a former finance minister as well as at least four others. Days later, on 2 January, a car bomb in a southern suburb of the city killed five.

Though the attacks were far from the first to afflict the country, they did suggest that 2014 could be another difficult year as the small Mediterranean state seeks to maintain a fragile peace.

The country is in many ways a prisoner to wider regional trends; the civil war next door in Syria is increasing tension at home, while the political and sectarian polarization seen across the Middle East is playing out in the religiously diverse state. The country is also approaching political paralysis; it has gone without a government since March 2013, as the two rival factions, 14 March and 8 March, engage in seemingly fruitless negotiations.

In this context, one could forgive Lebanese for not wanting anything else that might cause further dispute. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL), due to finally start on Thursday, is just that.

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‘These kids have nothing. They come here to forget’

This article was originally featured in The Times Education Supplement

The clouds in Lebanon’s eastern Bekaa region may be darkening as the winter storms set in, but Ahmed Saab shows few signs of negativity.

Gesticulating widely, he swings open a door to a room full of smiling children, who promptly stand to greet their headteacher. “These are the second years,” he says, eliciting a sharp communal rebuke. “Sorry, third years,” he laughs.

The leader of the informally named Syrian School of Baalbek has a new spring in his step. Only a few months ago, he had been resigned to losing the institution he founded and that for a year had provided 200 refugee children with their only education. Now an innovative campaign – which crowdsourced the school’s first proper funding – has given him and his students fresh hope.

The story goes back 18 months to when Mr Saab, a newly arrived refugee who had been a headteacher in the central Syrian city of Homs, first noticed dozens of aimless young Syrian refugees on Baalbek’s streets. He started to ask the children why they were not in school.

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