Australia’s Lebanese community grieve from afar following Beirut blast

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Editorial

On behalf of the W’SUP team, I would like to share our deepest condolences to the people of Lebanon for the recent tragedy. We are aware that Western Sydney University (WSU), in the beauty of its diversity, has a large proportion of Lebanese staff and students. This includes one of our fellow editors on the W’SUP team, Dania Roumieh, who has generously shared her insights and thoughts in this article.

 Whether a family member, friend or someone you know has been directly affected by the blast or not – what remains is an unshakeable connection to your community and your homeland.

What happened and how?

As we are likely to have seen flooding news headlines, August 4 saw a devastating explosion in Lebanon’s city of Beirut, on the city’s northern Mediterranean coast. According to BBC News, the impact of the blast has reportedly killed at least 200 people and injured 5,000 others.

“The smoke of the Beirut explosion spread over the sky of Lebanon” by Hussein Saifi Tv is licensed under CC BY 3.0

Hassan Diab, Lebanon’s Prime Minister, blames this explosion on the 2,000+ tonnes of ammonium nitrate that he states had been stored unsafely at a warehouse in the port of the city. According to several news sources, a fire appears to have triggered the explosion in Beirut.

What is Beirut to Lebanon?

With Beirut being the capital of Lebanon, Dania mentions that the city is known as the “heart of the country.”

Lebanese-Australian, Eva Karm was born and raised in a city north of Lebanon called Tripoli. Her husband was born in the east-side of Beirut, and they have proudly visited Beirut a number of times with their daughters. Eva says that Beirut is a beautiful and lively city that reminds her of Europe, particularly due to the strong French influence in the city.

“It’s the Switzerland of the Middle East – as they call it,” she adds.

“Beirut Down Town, Lebanon” by Paul Saad is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

On the other hand, Dania Roumieh has never visited Lebanon or Beirut herself, however she states that her heart remains strongly connected to the people. One important aspect that cherishes about the Lebanese community, is that they look out for each other.

Eva notes that despite the busy lifestyle in the capital city, the people are very welcoming and open-minded. “Their people love to live, no matter what tragedies they go through- they still hope that tomorrow will be a better day,” she says. “Hopefully Lebanon will resurrect again – as it’s done in the past.”

Artist and Musician Raymond Essayan plays piano, after suffering a destroyed home and concussion during the port explosion.
Credit: Photographer Chris McGrath, Instagram

How has this affected the people of Lebanon and the international Lebanese community?

All while experiencing the onerous brunt of COVID-19, Beirut and the wider Lebanese community are mourning the grievances of their people and homes. Eva’s husband, who was born and raised in Beirut, has many friends who have either been injured, their houses destroyed, or lost their lives during the tragedy. A friend of her daughter, unnamed, was a young firefighter who passed while putting out the fires from the explosion. 

Alongside this, Lebanon is suffering a blow to the economy, which “has affected them [Lebanese citizens] tragically,” says Dania. They are now vulnerable to limited resources and prices have drastically increased, making it harder for them to get everyday items like milk and bread.

“Every day, we keep in touch with our family in Lebanon, and they explain to us the severe living conditions they are experiencing. It saddens us that this is what they are now going through, and how fortunate we are as a country [living in Australia] to have access to resources.” 

Throughout Lebanon, there was also widespread outrage over the mismanagement and inaction of the government in this event, as well as longstanding government corruption and economic mismanagement.

As a result, protests have broken out on the streets of Berit following the explosion. Just days after the explosion, Lebanon’s government resigns.

How has Australia responded?

Australia has a large and vibrant Lebanese community, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne – a place they now call home.

“We say Lebanon is our place of origin; it’s our heritage, our food, our music, our language, our people,” says Dania.

Lebanese-Australian, Aziza Mamoun says that although she lives in Australia and wouldn’t live anywhere else, Lebanon is her favourite place on Earth and it feels like “home”.

For many Lebanese migrants like Dania’s grandparents, some were forced to flee their homeland from civil war or travelled to Australia for a better life. Living outside of Lebanon in the current climate, namely due to COVID-19, Dania shares that it is painful to know they are unable to visit their families anytime soon.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has offered $5 million in emergency funding from Australia, which will be delivered through charities including Red Cross, UNICEF and the World Food Programme.

A week after the incident, the Sydney Opera House projected the Lebanese cedar to pay tribute in light of the recent tragedy.

Lebanese Cedar projected on the Opera House. Gladys Berejiklian Instagram

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian posts an image of the sight, stating in an Instagram post

“From NSW to Lebanon with love. A week after the horrific blast you continue to be in our thoughts and prayers.”

What can we do to help?

Overall, Dania shares that the best ways to help are through donations, prayers and raising awareness about the situation.

Every single person living in Lebanon has been directly affected by the blast, says Aziza, as the economy was on the brink prior and likely to collapse.

“A lot of my family members no longer have jobs to go to or have had to close their businesses due to the economic climate, and the plummet in the Lebanese economy” she says.

Dania urges that we must encourage others to help restore this broken country who have helplessly become victims to several disasters; from economic stress to COVID-19, and now an explosion.

“If everyone can donate as small as a dollar, we can re-build the Lebanese city and their home to be bigger and stronger than ever.”

Eva and her family send their donations to the Red Cross, as she asserts that this will directly go to those who need it, rather than the government. Other forms of donations to registered NGOs are also a great place to start, Aziza adds.

We don’t want it to go through the government, says Eva, as they didn’t play a good role during the tragedy. 

Red Cross Responding to the Beirut Explosion. Source: Australian Red Cross Website

Aziza also encourages people to visit the beautiful Beirut and wider Lebanon for a summer once everything is rebuilt.

 

If you feel distressed by the events in Lebanon and are a staff or student at the university, you may wish to access WSU’s counselling services:
Phone: 1300 668 370 (option 4 then option 1)
Email:
counselling@westernsydney.edu.au

If you’d like to support the victims of the disaster in Beirut, consider donating to a reputable charity. Below are some registered charities to get you started: 

Red Cross – To donate, and for more information click here.

UNICEF- To donate, and for more information click here.

World Food Programme- To donate, and for more information click here.

Jostina Basta

I’m a fifth-year Bachelor of Communications/Bachelor of Laws student, majoring in journalism, and I have…

Jostina Basta

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