Edmontonians of Lebanese origin worried about loved ones as Middle East clashes intensify

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The Lebanese community in Edmonton is worried about loved ones overseas as Israel-Lebanon border clashes intensify amid fears the war could expand.

Yazan Haymour, president of the Canadian Arab Friendship Association (CAFA), told Postmedia he has cousins still living in Lebanon and he’s concerned for their safety.

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“They’re very stressed, they’re not happy at all. They’re confused. They don’t know what’s going to happen,” Haymour said. “So they’re living day by day by the news … they don’t know what to expect anymore because it’s unpredictable.”

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Haymour said since the Israel-Hamas war started on Oct. 7, phone calls to CAFA asking for help to bring loved ones to Canada have significantly increased.

The association is trying to help direct people as much as it can by helping them fill out applications. The federal government is asking Canadians in Lebanon to leave, but the situation is much more uncertain for family members without Canadian passports, Haymour said.

“I know they’re calling on Canadians to leave Lebanon. But in a situation like this, most of it, a lot of people, they have kids who were born in Lebanon. They’re not completely registered yet in Canada because most of the time it takes one year, year and a half to naturalize your child from Lebanon through the embassy,” he said.

“Lots of them, if they go to the embassy, they have to wait 23 hours to see somebody. So for lots of them, the internet doesn’t work to communicate with the embassy through emails.”

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Joe Hak, a local community leader who is of Lebanese origin, said the whole world is affected by what is happening. People with family in Lebanon are nervous about an escalation of violence, as nobody wants a war, he said.

“In Edmonton, they’re all very, very worried. I think each family has relatives there. Some people have their mother and sisters there,” he said.

In a statement to Postmedia, Canada’s Defence Minister Bill Blair said his government is committed to helping Canadians abroad, and the Canadian Armed Forces are ready to assist should the situation deteriorate.

“In short, Operation LUMEN is the Canadian Armed Forces’ assistance to Global Affairs Canada in the potential evacuation or assisted departure of Canadian citizens, permanent residents, and their eligible family members from Lebanon to a third, safe location should the security situation continue to deteriorate,” Blair said in a statement.

In the event that CAF assistance is required, a task force headquarters based in Cyprus has been stood up, from which CAF planners and liaison staff continue to work in close cooperation with their Global Affairs Canada counterparts to ensure the continued safety of Canadians in the region.”

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People can’t afford war: advocates

Hak said a war would be devastating to Lebanon, noting the country’s bad economic situation and low employment rate.

As an example, Haymour said that one of his cousins works with the police service but all he makes is the equivalent of US$30 a month after a drastic drop in the local currency in the last few years.

While his cousin has his family’s support, people in general can’t afford a war, especially when they are already suffering from the economic downturn, Haymour said.

“So, if Israel tried to launch an attack on Lebanon, there would be a catastrophe there. So these people, they’ve been suffering already from all kinds of issues — financial, medical and food (shortages),” he said.

Malik Shukayev, associate professor of economics at the University of Alberta, told Postmedia wars are extremely costly, especially in countries with weak infrastructure such as Lebanon.

“They create a lot of uncertainty and deter investment into the private sector. And the one important effect they have on the economy, they pull resources away from the private economy,” Shukayev said.

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“So as the governments are trying to mobilize the economic resources for production of weapons and for equipment and supplies for the army, typically they have to take those resources from the economy and the way it’s usually done in an economy with stronger institutions and stronger fiscal policy, they might do it by raising the taxes.

“But in a weaker country with a weak infrastructure and low ability to collect taxes, they might resort to additional money-printing and creating some sort of inflationary tax.”

He warned that further money-printing lowers the value of the currency, which has already been deteriorating since late 2019.

“With the weak infrastructure there is going to be a big increase in inflation and typically a sharp further devaluation in the currency, which might make it even harder for a country like that to finance the imports of essentials like food and energy,” he said.

This leads to a failed state, where there is no government services and protection from criminals, he added.

Chetan Dave, professor of economics at U of A, said wars are bad for the economy and for human beings.

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“Any war in an economy that is already in a downturn can make economic conditions worse as the labour that is normally employed in productive activities — that is young people — is being killed as there is a war,” said Dave.

Demands for ceasefire

Hak said he wants the Canadian government to ask for a ceasefire.

“Whether the person killed is Jewish, Christian or Muslim, we condemn killing, but we need to make sure that when we condemn killing, we condemn killing on all sides, whoever kills should be condemned.”

Haymour also wants the Canadian government to ask for an immediate ceasefire, not only in south Lebanon, but in Gaza.

“I’m hoping the Canadian government, the peacemaking country, the peace-speaking government we know to intervene seriously to stop the war in Gaza. Stop the killing. … Enough is enough,” he said. “Bring up a peace plan.”

Meanwhile, pro-Palestinian demonstrators staged rallies in Edmonton and across the world on Saturday, calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and for Israel to be reprimanded for the killing of civilians.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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