On 19 May 2007, “Collegium Civitas” and “Ibn Khaldun Institute” organized a Conference on Forced Migration in the Middle East after World War II in which many officials and scholars participated. The Embassy of Lebanon was represented by the Charge d’Affaires Mr. Kabalan Frangieh who gave a speech about the Lebanese experience in this field. The Conference was organized to shed the light on issues of migration in the Middle East and namely the migration of Polish people to the Middle East during and after World War II. Below is the text of the speech given by Mr. Frangieh on this occasion.
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Conference on Forced Migration in the Middle East after WW II
Speech by Chargé d’Affaires a.i. of Lebanon Kabalan Frangieh
in “Collegium Civitas”
19 May 2007
Distinguished President of Collegium Civitas,
Distinguished Director of Ibn Khaldoun Istitute,
Distinguished Professors and Students of the Collegium,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to have been invited today by Ibn Khaldoun Institute and Collegium Civitas to speak about the migration in the Middle East and Lebanon in particular. Allow me first to thank Professor Zagórski and his entire staff for organizing this conference which will shed the light on the problems of migration in the Middle East.
Raising the consciousness on problems has always been part of the solution. I will first speak on the Migration from Lebanon and the different waves of emigrants from it and then of the migration to Lebanon, namely the polish immigrants who came to Lebanon during and after World War II.
Lebanon’s image in the world, especially in the aftermath of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005 has not been a bright one.
This tragedy and the resulting political upheaval are indicative of Lebanon’s continued transition after a prolonged civil war. The current political events overshadow a naturally open, beautiful, hospitable and historic country, the small size of which is not at all related to the accomplishments it has achieved over time.
Lebanon has made significant contributions to world civilization.
Our forefathers the Phoenicians are very well known for developing navigational skills more than four thousand years ago that allowed them at the time to reach areas far away from their bases.
Throughout history, Lebanese people were known to have migrated extensively both under the form of voluntary migration and involuntary migration. Indeed that explains why the population of Lebanon is now about 3.750.000 while there are more than 12.000.000 people of Lebanese origin living abroad.
IT IS SAFE TO SAY THAT THE LEBANESE EMIGRATION IS A PHENOMENON IN ITSELF.
In fact, Lebanon has witnessed four main waves of emigration:
1_ The first one was in the late 1800s, during the rule of the Ottoman Empire which occupied Lebanon and the whole Middle East from the 16th century until the end of World War I in the 20th century, when many thousands of Lebanese Christians began their emigration from the Middle East to the Americas and to West Africa and Australia in order to escape the persecution and oppression.
2_The second wave was due to the hard economic conditions imposed on the region before and during World War I which prompted Lebanese from all religions to emigrate. And then The new favorable conditions of life encountered by the emigrants encouraged more to emigrate to the new world.
3_The third one was after the end of World War II, when a new wave of emigration took place because of economic hardships and especially because of the creation of Israel in 1948 and the wars launched by Israel and the political instability throughout the region. It is estimated that in the first half of the 20th century, almost one third of the population of Lebanon left. And Lebanese people now constitute an integral component of the populations of Latin America, the United States, Canada and Australia.
4_ The fourth wave was due to the civil war that occurred in Lebanon between 1975 and 1990 which caused a new flow of Lebanese emigration which included people from all religious affiliations. The Arab Gulf and Saudi Arabia in particular were the favorite destination for tens of thousands of Lebanese emigrants.
Thanks to their remittances, the balance of payements of Lebanon was always positive throughout the civil war and the Lebanese economy was and still is able to overcome a lot of its hardships.
Today, every country in the world has Lebanese or people of Lebanese origin living on its soil, be it in Europe, Africa, America or the most remote island. And as I speak there are a lot of young Lebanese men and women thinking or planning to emigrate to one of the corners of this world.
Of course there are a few hundred Lebanese community members who live now in Poland. Most of those are graduates of Polish universities and are married to Polish women. They are well integrated in the Polish society and they also are an important pillar in the relations between our two nations.
On the other hand, Lebanon has also received immigrants throughout history who have settled down and formed communities that constitute now the diverse social and religious tissue of Lebanon which is considered for some the country of minorities living together side by side.
In the last century most immigrants to Lebanon came from countries in the Middle East such as Palestine and Syria and from more far away countries such as Armenia and Poland.
Lebanon has been known to Polish travelers and pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land since the Middle Ages. Among them were Polish Princes and Poets the likes of the famous poet Juliusz Słowacki .They all wrote on how they were well received by the people in Lebanon.
Lebanon has also well received Polish immigrants.
In 1939 at the start of the Second World War when Poland was occupied, the Soviet army deported millions of Polish people to Siberia. The survivors of these deportation camps, who were released when the Soviet Union joined the Allies, were led by the Free Polish Army to many countries including Lebanon.
The most enduring and significant influx of Poles to Lebanon occurred between 1942-1952.
First to arrive were Polish students who attended various academic institutions and later in 1945-46, at the end of World War 2, polish families coming from Iran arrived in Lebanon. All in all, about 5000 Polish nationals took refuge in Lebanon. They were soon integrated into the Lebanese society. The Polish community comprised scientists, professors, artists and musicians who enriched Lebanese cultural life. Many of them achieved prominent posts in the Lebanese administration. Today there is an active and integrated Polish community in Lebanon and it constitutes an excellent bridge between our two countries.
To give you an idea on how well polish immigrants were received in Lebanon,
I will read you an extract from Irena Juchniewicz memoir: a polish student who migrated to Lebanon
“There is no greater tragedy for a child than to loose its home, its country, all the things safe and familiar and to be uprooted and taken across the wilderness, taigas and steps to barren and hostile lands. I lost both my parents and sister there. The whole world of a child came about to an end.
And then, as if by a miracle, I found myself in an oasis, in paradise, where people were kind, hospitable and friendly; the sea was blue and warm; the orchads full of familiar and exotic fruit. Peace and harmony everywhere. It was almost unreal especially because I knew that in my own country and right across Europe, in contrast to Lebanon, the war was raging and there was devastation and ruins everywhere.
Lebanon gave us, the orphans of war, a much needed solid foundation of a civilized family life and believe in human kindness and generosity of heart”.
From the eyes of this little girl I want you to see the hospitable and warm Lebanon that I know, this is one example on how Lebanon has made significant contributions to humanity.
I wish to conclude by reiterating my sincere congratulations to the organizers of this conference and by stating that, with the long list of important participants in this event, the Conference will no doubt constitute a significant contribution to the discussions about the problems emmigrants are facing with the hope that no migration in the world be a forced migration.
Thank you for your attention.