Lebanese Returnees: Reasons for return, adaptation and re-emigration
Nathalie Gérard malhamé
A thesis
submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements
for the degree of Master of Arts
to the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences
of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences
at the American University of Beirut
Beirut, Lebanon
February 2006

nese Returnees: Reasons for return, adaptation and re-emigration.
Nathalie gérard malhamé

Approved by:
Dr. Samir Khalaf, Professor                            Advisor

Social and Behavioral Sciences                                                                                                                        

Dr. Sari Hanafi, Associate Professor

Social and Behavioral Sciences        Member of Committee                                                                                                    

Dr. Diane E. King, Assistant Professor                                           

Social and Behavioral Sciences     Member of Committee                                                                                                 

 Date of thesis defense: February 7, 2006

 American univeristy of beirut - thesis release form

I, Nathalie Gérard Malhamé
   +  authorize the American University of Beirut to supply copies of my thesis to libraries or individuals upon request.
do not authorize the American University of Beirut to supply copies of my thesis to libraries or individuals for a period of two years starting with the date of the thesis defense.
____________________                                                                                                Signature____________________



Special Thanks: 

To my mentor, Dr. Samir Khalaf, who, to my great honor, supervised and re-directed the course of my work with endless patience. Without his inspiring guidance or words of wisdom I would not have been able to get through this journey with so much personal and intellectual growth. 

To Dr. Diane. E. King and Dr. Sari Hanafi whose informed suggestions helped me rethink and redirect the course of my work.

To Dr. Ray Jureidini whose kind and inspiring help during the stage of my thesis proposal shall not be forgotten

To my friends and extended family who never failed to offer their help and opinions if I needed them.

 To my sister Caroline whose advice, as both my big sister and as a fellow sociologist, inspired me greatly.

 To my parents, Gérard and Najla, whose constant love, understanding and support encouraged me throughout every stage of this research. 

To my partner Charbel whose unfailing faith in me and readiness to help me in any way possible motivated me throughout every stage of this research. 

Finally and most importantly, to all the returnees interviewed. Without them I could not have written this thesis or learnt and grown so much. Their words, thoughts and experiences have profoundly touched me. This thesis is therefore dedicated to them. May they find home wherever they go. 


 Nathalie Gérard Malhamé for  Master of Arts

 Major: Sociology

 Title: Lebanese Returnees: Reasons for Return, Adaptation and Re-emigration

This graduate thesis explores some of the distinctive features of return migration to Lebanon. An effort is made to account for the factors associated with the forms and patterns it has been assuming. Particular focus is placed on the perspectives of the returnees themselves and on how they identify and account for the reasons for their return and the problems and circumstances they face in making their reentry.

  KEYWORDS: Adaptation, Lebanon, Return Migration, Returnee and Remigration

This thesis aims to offer an in-depth qualitative understanding of return migration to Lebanon. It aims to shed light on the experiences of twenty- four Lebanese migrants who returned anytime after the end of the civil war, i.e. approximately from 1990 to early 2004; fifteen of which are over the age of forty-five, nine of which are under the age of thirty. It does so by raising and attempting to answer the following questions, while showing if and how responses differ across the two generational groups:
1) Why does return migration to Lebanon take place?
2) How do migrants adapt to the country?
3) Why do return migration experiences sometimes lead to re-emigration  or contemplation of re-emigration? 

In the process, it raises several compelling, often existential, questions such as who is entitled to be called a returnee? Who is entitled to be called Lebanese? What is citizenship and how is identity formed? What is home and what does it mean to return home? When stepping into the field of return migration, one touches on all kinds of considerations ranging from rational, national and political ones to cultural, psychological and emotional ones to global, postmodern and sociological ones. Such questions inspire us to look deeply at our inner selves and at the world around us in wonder at who we really are.

Though migration is a ‘complex phenomenon as old as mankind’ (Demuth 2000) and though it has been a field of study since the 1960s (Cassarino 2004), return migration only gained attention as a ‘serious counter stream to emigration flows’ around 1986 (ESCWA). Our understanding of it, due to its complexity, still remains incomplete.

Neo-classical economics and new economic theories, for instance, focus on it solely from an economic standpoint. While there are certainly some returnees who return for economic reasons, there are naturally others who return for other reasons. Many theories such as transnationalism, social network theory and theories on the diaspora include return migration as part of their analysis in a very informative way. Yet none offers a holistic perspective on this complex and emerging phenomena. 

The aim of this thesis is to try to build on these theories by exploring some of the premises and research strategies of grounded theory in the modest hope of highlighting the need for a new perspective for understanding salient features of this underreported, but important process of migration (Cassarino 2004:162). This perspective must do justice to its complexity and to its various types of returnees that can be identified.

The existing research on return migration and the context in which return migration takes place are reviewed in chapter one. The methodology and research design used to carry out the study are outlined in chapter two. The bulk of the thesis is devoted to the findings of the inquiry, which are discussed in chapter three. The last chapter considers limitations of the study and suggestions for further research.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS TOC \o "1-1" ……………………………….………………




 TOC \o "1-1" ABSTRACT……………………………………………….……………………



 TOC \o "1-1" PREFACE…………………………………………………











A. Introductory Notes…………………………………………….…





B.  A Review of Theoretical Orientations………………………


2.1.0 A Review of Theoretical Orientations

2.1.0 A Review of Theoretical Orientations




1.  Neo-Classical Economics and New Economics Theories..




2.  Structural Accounts………………………………………



3. Transnationalism and Studies on the Diaspora…………...



4. Social Network Theory…………………………………..



C. Triangulation: Induction and Deduction………………………




D. Additional Review of Key Issues…………………………….



1. Definition of a returnee…………………………………..



2. Identity and Citizenship in a Global Context…………….



3. Stages of Return Migration………………………………



 TOC \o "1-1" METHODOLOGY…………………………………………….………..






A. Research Design………………………………………………….


2.1.0 A Review of Theoretical Orientations

2.1.0 A Review of Theoretical Orientations




B. Interview Participants……………………………………………


2.1.0 A Review of Theoretical Orientations

2.1.0 A Review of Theoretical Orientations




C. Interview Structure: Semi-structured Interviews………………... ……………………


2.1.0 A Review of Theoretical Orientations

2.1.0 A Review of Theoretical Orientations



D. The Interview Schedule…………………………………………..


2.1.0 A Review of Theoretical Orientations

2.1.0 A Review of Theoretical Orientations



E. Ethical Considerations…………………………………………….








A. Profile of Returnees………………………………………………...




B. Why they left………………………………………………………..




C. Why they returned…………………………………………………




D. Ties to the Homeland………………………………………………



E.  Adaptation Process………………………………………………..



1. Idealization of the Homeland followed by Disappointment..



2. Adaptation Difficulties………………………………………



3. Adaptation Facilities………………………………………...








F. On “Caterpillars” and “Butterflies”: Reflections on Re-migration ………………………………………...























The rationale of this chapter is to review some of the existing research, bearing in mind the following considerations.  First, an effort is made to single out and draw upon those which, in my view, make important contributions to the understanding of return migration. Second, in doing so, the intention is to highlight the importance of paying attention to the context in which return migration takes place.

Introductory Notes

Due to ‘the growing diversity’ of returnees, to fully understand return migration, a broad in-depth ‘interpretative framework’ of return migration that does not only refer to ‘labor migrants’ is needed (Cassarino 2004: 179). ESCWA’s investigation, for example, is limited in the sense that, it focuses solely on labor returnees (ESCWA 1993).  There are other push- and- pull factors, besides those related to work opportunities that can cause people to voluntarily or involuntarily migrate. Issawi (1992), Khater (2001), Davie (1992), Hanafi (2005) and Khalaf (1987, 2003), among others who have explored various dimensions of Lebanese migration, consider for example, political, cultural and socio-psychological as well as economic factors, when outlining determinants of emigration. As Demuth points out, ‘no one will move light-heartedly without a cause. Most  people prefer their home countries and will stay if conditions are barely tolerable’ (2000: 26). Some people may migrate as a survival strategy to escape man-made factors such as war or the abuse of human rights. Many Lebanese in the nineteenth century, for instance, sought refuge from the Ottoman oppression and refuge from military conscription (Khalaf, 1987: 21, 28). For instance, Labaki states that as much as fortypercent of the Lebanese population (meaning 990,000 people) left Lebanon ‘during the 14 years of war’ that lasted from 1975 to 1989 (1992: 609). Many left due to the decline in living conditions that came as a consequence of the war. This decline included ‘shortages of basic commodities such as water and electricity’, a breakdown of communications and services that caused ‘loss of business’ and a ‘closing of schools and universities’ (Davie 1992: 633-35).  Some people may migrate because of traumatic environmental disasters such as droughts or tsunamis. ‘Entire villages,’ in Lebanon, as Khalaf shows for instance, were ‘deserted’, in 1916 after the breaking out of a harsh famine (1987: 26). Others may migrate because of bad working conditions, poverty or bad governance (Demuth 2000). Others may also migrate to join loved ones abroad, to study, to benefit from a research grant abroad, to gain international experience or migrate as a ‘rite of passage’ (Brettell 2000: 101).

As Davie shows, some departures are permanent or long lasting whereas others are only temporary. For instance, while some Lebanese during the war were living ‘in the day-to-day hope of returning, ears glued to the radio, planning and predicting when and how they would return’, others felt there was ‘no future’ or only a grim future for their children in their country that was ‘on its knees’ (Davie 1992: 635-36).

Similarly, migrants may return for different reasons and for different lengths of time. Some may settle down permanently whereas others may only sojourn. While Franceso Cerase only identifies four reasons for return (return of ‘failure’, ‘conservatism’, ‘retirement’ and ‘innovation’) (in Cassarino 2004: 166), my literature review has indicated that there are several more reasons and that such justifications often overlap. As Thibault puts it, ‘stereotyped explanations’ often conceal more complex reasons that include ‘personal motivations’ (2005: 2). As Brettell suggests, though returnees have ‘common experiences, migration itself is a complex and diverse phenomenon. Migrants can be differentiated by sex, class, ethnicity, the nature of their labor force participation, their reasons for migrating, the stage of the lifecycle at which they move and the form of migration’ (2000: 118). Thus there is no single stereotypical answer to the question: why do people migrate or return to their country of origin? Specifically, there is no single answer to the question ‘what draws the Lebanese overseas back to the Lebanon from such far flung destinations?’ (Cohen 1997)

Some return because the human rights or political situation in their home country has improved. Labaki shows for instance, that out of the 400,000 Lebanese that left Lebanon during the first year of the war, 297,000 returned a year later. He also states that many others returned later on, when they thought the war was over (1992: 607-609). About 40,000 are said to have returned between 1992 and 1993 (UNICEF 1995).

Some return because of feeling they failed to get a good job and ‘make it’ abroad or to send remittances back home (Olesen 2002). Massey, offers a vivid metaphor of ‘prodigal sons’ returning to their mother when ‘the going elsewhere gets rough’ to describe such return migration (in Urry 2000: 141). Others may return after failing to integrate abroad due to facing intense ostracism, racism, discrimination or xenophobia (Brettell 2000). Some Arab immigrants, for example after September 11th, may feel the need to return to their countries of origins due to being labeled negatively as ‘terrorists’.  Some return to retire after they have accumulated enough wealth to lead a comfortable life back home while others experience a corporate transfer. Some return for conservative, nostalgic and other traditional reasons such as not liking the culture or pace of life abroad. Some return with enough capital to set up their own business and to aid the development process in the country. The latter contribute to what Cerase has termed ‘the return of innovation’ or ‘ideological return’ (Olesen 2002). They help contribute to the country’s development or ‘brain gain’. As Breckner points out, some return in search of a sense of belonging in terms of nationality; while others return in search of unknown aspects of their family history, due to feeling ‘home-sick’ or to being in search of ‘specific memories of the past life connected to specific places’ that they ‘had left behind’. Some return to settle matters of family inheritance. Some return out of feelings of obligation to help kin back home (Brettell 2000) while others seek to escape certain aspects of their present lives and others still, seek to ‘bridge ruptures’ from ‘long-lasting separations from significant persons, milieus and places, from landscapes, cities and villages’ (Breckner 2000: 92-93).

My literature review confirmed that although several theories do include return migration as a ‘subcomponent of their analysis’ and do make significant contributions to the understanding of it (Cassarino 2004: 164), no single theory thus far has managed to offer a holistic or complete picture of return migration.

 A Review of Theoretical Orientations

Neo-Classical Economics and New Economics Theories

            Neo-classical economics theory portrays return migration as a failed involuntary ‘migration experience’ ‘in terms of expected earnings, employment, duration’ and wasted human capital (Cassarino 2000: 164). More recently new economics theories of labor migration on the other hand, are more inclined to portray it as a successful calculated migration experience that returnees voluntarily undertake once they have sent enough remittances back home to fulfill a targeted goal (Cassarino 2000). While there are certainly some returnees who return for economic reasons, there are naturally some who return for other reasons. As Cassarino notes, the latter two theories focus on returnees solely from an economical standpoint. Such theories, like other single, deterministic and essentialist interpretations, do not focus on contextual issues that may affect the reintegration of returnees and are in that sense narrow in scope. Thus, though they should be taken into consideration, further theoretical exploration is needed.

Structural Accounts

Structural accounts have looked at returnees who desire to trigger developmental changes in their country of origin. The dilemma was that their expectations of their opportunities and skills were too high to match the reality in their home country, mainly because they failed to gather enough information about ‘post-return’ conditions and their underestimation of the power of local, traditional and institutional, vested interests (Cassarino 2004: 168).  The stress here is that contextual and structural factors shape return experiences and determine whether they are failures or successes. Status and economic resources along with the duration of time abroad, play key roles. For example, too lengthy a stay abroad may result in a loss of local networks and too short a stay may result in the failure to acquire necessary skills. The realization of their ‘little innovative influence’ resulted in the contemplation of re-emigration (Cassarino 2004: 168). As Cassarino notes, structuralism is helpful in the sense that it calls our attention to the power of situational structures over agency and in turn to the power they may have on the adaptation and migration processes of returnees (2004). As Khalaf perceptively shows, it can also shed some light on the selective character of migration. He links the fact that most Lebanese emigrants in the nineteenth century were Christian for example, to the fact that Christians were experiencing deep felt ‘anxieties and apprehensions of a persecuted minority within the context of the Ottoman Empire’ (1987: 21).

The skills or human capital a person has will usually influence their ability to adapt to a country of origin (Brettell and Hollifield 2000). Language, for instance, is a very important factor. One of the returnees interviewed by Thibault, for example, felt that to fully adapt to Lebanon he needed to learn Arabic. In this sense, structuralism calls our attention to the fact that though returnees do act; they are also ‘acted upon’ (Brettell 2000: 18).

Transnationalism and Studies on the Diaspora

Return migration is usually associated with migrants returning “home”. ESCWA’s study is keen and deliberate in raising the question ‘What is home?’ (ESCWA 1993). The theories mentioned so far fail to satisfactorily look into this as an existential issue. In discussing transnationalism in migration, Demuth illustrates the term home can conjure up two different images (2000). One is emotionally charged and refers to a ‘nebulous feeling of home where one belongs or wants to belong’ or where one feels rooted (2000: 24-25). The other refers to ‘an actual geographic place where one lives’ (2000: 24-25). The amount of time a person spends in a specific place usually influences their associating it with a ‘homey feeling’ (2000: 24-25). Though the desire to belong somewhere, such as to one’s birthplace seems to be a universal human desire, (Tuan in Lidgard and Gilson 2002: 100) Demuth suggests, for example, that ‘not many people will still feel attached to their birthplace if they grew up elsewhere surrounded by a different culture’ (2000: 24-25).

However, as Urry points out it is possible for people to ‘dwell’ or feel at home with others and to feel connected to a place without being physically close to them or in the same place through ‘imaginative travel’ (2000: 66) and through their being connected to an ‘imagined community’ (2000: 132). Transnationalism shows how improved technological means of communications, such as the Internet, have facilitated and speeded up the flow of information and communication and made room for this kind of virtual travel (2000). Thus even while abroad, migrants may feel connected to their country of origin.

Being part of a diaspora can further fuel and sustain their nationalist sentiment and attachment to the home country. Lebanese-Canadians born in Canada, for example, may have never visited Lebanon but may experience a strong sense of ‘belonging’ to Lebanon and may identify with it due to their being told stories about and shown pictures of it. They may feel a strong connection to a Lebanese diaspora and may refer to themselves as part of a ‘we’ of Lebanese.

Much of the literature on migration, and specifically on Lebanese migration, provides ample evidence in support of such realities. Cohen’s study on the diaspora shows that Lebanese abroad may form cultural clubs to ‘cement the ties with the homeland (1997: 100). It points to the fact that Lebanese migrants may experience a ‘collective memory and myth about the homeland’ and an ‘idealization of the supposed ancestral home’. It usefully informs us that nostalgia for the ‘aged cedars’ and pride of ‘Phoenician roots’ may muster in the hearts of these migrants and trigger longings for the ‘homeland’ (Cohen, 1997: 100). Additionally, Demuth suggests that ‘the stronger the emotional link to the place called home, the stronger it influences a decision to migrate’ (2000: 25).

Transnationalism and studies on the diaspora show how ‘cheaper transportation costs have participated to make return migration a multiple-stage process’ (Cassarino 2004: 179). The creation of the Middle East Airlines, as Cohen’s study notes, facilitated the transportation of Lebanese migrants (1997: 100).

Transnationalism shows how social networks based on kinship and ethnic ties can facilitate return migration (Cassarino 2004). It also offers great insight into the adaptation process of returnees by noting that returnees may face difficulties in readapting to their country of origin and may feel marginalized from the local culture (Cassarino 2004). They may experience ‘double identities’ and may try to ‘negotiate them without denying their own specificities’ (Cassarino 2004: 173). In some cases returnees who had felt very patriotic before their return may feel less patriotic after it due to their finding difficulties identifying with the actual day-to-day reality, mentality and culture of the country.

Transnationalism and studies on the diaspora both show how migrants may identify with a community of migrants that ‘have a propensity’ for moving and that may consider themselves hybrids or cosmopolitans. People may often want to re-emigrate which may eventually lead to a type of ‘yo-yo’ migration whereby migrants are constantly moving back and forth from place to place (Brettell 2000: 111). For some of these migrants ‘migration becomes an expectation and a normal part of the life course’ (Brettell and Hollifield 2000: 16). Hanafi’s assumptions that return migration is often transnational in character in that returnees maintain connections with both their country of origin and host country and in that they often have dual citizenships, is very insightful (2005: 59). Hashimoto’s portrayal of Lebanese migrants as both ‘butterflies’, in that leave their country of origin, and ‘caterpillars’ in that they return to it is very interesting (Hashimoto in Cohen, 1997: 98)

Social Network Theory

Social network theory also sheds some useful light on both the ‘network mediated’ return of returnees and on their adaptation process (Brettell 2000: 111). It states that migrant incorporation depends on social capital, which Heisler defines, as the ‘capacity of individuals to command scarce resources by virtue of their membership in social networks’ (2000: 83). Such resources can be material, symbolic or emotional. For example, they can be money, information or love (Turner 2003). As opposed to transnationalism, social network theory suggests very insightfully, that social ties are not always based on kinship or ethnic lines but also at times on associative or commonality ties (Cassarino 2004). Returnees, for example, may feel the need to ‘construct their own zones’ or spaces to feel ‘at home’ or empowered in their country of origin (McKay in Urry 2000: 142). Such zones may include self-help groups, voluntary organizations and environmental NGOs. Members of such groups are usually connected by associative ties rather than by ethnic or kinship ties. They voluntarily seek out such ties. Though they are often temporary, they play a vital role in helping returnees mobilize and cope with their suffering or discomfort; in helping them feel integrated to their new environment and in helping them settle down permanently instead of migrating again (2000).

            Social network theory offers a more holistic picture than transnationalism, of the various types of social ties that can exist. While some ties are desirable and can ease the adaptation and migration processes of returnees, others can be undesirable and have the reverse effect. For instance, as Khalaf shows, in the 1920s, ‘visas were granted on the basis of kinship ties to American citizens,’ thus being related to a citizen of a foreign country could help one get travel papers more easily (1987: 19). On the other hand, some returnees may feel that their less wealthy family members in their home country may expect them to help them out financially and may feel resentful when they do not (Stalker n.d.). Family obligations and traditions may burden them yet out of guilt, triggered from cultural expectations; they may feel they cannot just cut such ties.   

Social network theory distinguishes between close and weak ties and alerts us to the possibility of different degrees of network embededness (Cassarino 2004).  Culture and socialization can affect how close social and family ties are (Erikson 2001). In Lebanese culture for example, it is considered normal to rely on one’s extended family for support. Thus, people may consider it appropriate to turn to cousins and aunts when in need. While close ties play an important role, weak ties are also important as they can open doors to useful contacts (Erikson 2001). A returnee, for example, who has kept in touch with acquaintances in their country of origin, can call upon them to ask for their help in searching for a job.

            Cassarino is right to suggest that both transnationalism and social network theory insightfully unveil aspects of return migration that neo-classical, new economics and structuralism ignore. Thanks to both theories and to studies on the diaspora, return migration is no longer seen as ‘the end of the migration cycle’; back and forth movements between countries of origin and host countries have been observed and noted convincingly; the importance of social networks in sustaining such movements has also been raised and return migrants have been identified as bearers of both tangible and intangible resources (Cassarino 2004). These theories comprehensively shed light on how return migration is facilitated and sustained over time. Combining such theories with elements of structuralism, Cassarino persuasively calls upon us to pay attention to the importance of the readiness of returnees to return to their country of origin. He describes such readiness as not only a willingness to return but also being prepared in terms of their mobilization of information and resources (2004).

            Social network theory and transnationalism do show how the adaptation process of returnees can be facilitated and sustained but they do not fully explain why return migration is initiated. There are some return migration experiences that social network theory can explain such as those fueled by emotional ties. Hanafi’s study, for instance, considers ‘the nuclear and extended family as major players’ in migration decisions (2005: 59). Other experiences, however, may be fueled by desires to escape a certain reality, to experience a new way of life, to go on a spiritual adventure or to ‘make it big’ financially. Khalaf shows for instance, that many of the Lebanese who had been exposed to ‘Western ideas and culture’, by Western missionaries in the nineteenth century, would ‘realize that options were within reach for a richer and fuller life elsewhere’ (1987: 30). He also shows how many Lebanese at that time were also encouraged to migrate by ‘success stories of penniless immigrants beings transformed into millionaires’ (1987: 24). In such cases, networks may be seen as tools to aid the migration experience but not as the triggers of such experiences. Thus, I felt that there was still a piece missing in the theoretical puzzle and that further theoretical exploration was needed.

Triangulation: Induction and Deduction

            The theories mentioned so far, especially social network theory, transnationalism and studies on the diaspora were certainly useful in ‘sensitizing’ me as a researcher ‘to particular issues and aspects’ of return migration (Ezzy 2002: 11). However, to gain a better in-depth understanding of its complexity, I used such preexisting deductive theories in combination with (i.e. triangulated), the inductive approach of grounded theory that is “grounded in data” (Ezzy 2002: 7). I felt that grounded theory was a useful tool to use to fill in gaps not filled by other theories and that it could be used ‘to shape further research’ (Ezzy 2002: 11).  The dependent variables of my inquiry were the actual return of returnees, their adaptation process and their thoughts on re-emigration. The independent variables, such as speaking Arabic or making a selected circle of friends, will be discussed in chapter four.

 Additional Review of Key Issues

Definition of a returnee

Before we can move on to discuss the methodology used to interpret the return, adaptation and re-emigration of Lebanese returnees it is important to review some key issues such as the issue of who is ‘entitled’ (ESCWA 1993) to be called a Lebanese returnee. This entails determining both who is entitled to be called a returnee and, who is entitled to be called Lebanese. According a migration glossary a returnee is a person who returns ‘to their country of origin or habitual place of residence after spending at least one year in another country’ (BBC 2004). Though a lot can happen in a year, I suggest that a returnee who spent only one year abroad would not face as much

difficulty adapting to their country of origin as a returnee who spent between five to ten years abroad. 

 Identity and Citizenship in a Global Context

Adaptation is at least partly linked to identity, in this case the strength of Lebanese identity. A Lebanese citizen who has only spent a year abroad is not going to have the same identity and adaptation issues as a Lebanese citizen who left during childhood and returned during adolescence or adulthood; or a person who was born and raised in the United States, but who has a strong Lebanese identity and returns to what they consider their ‘parents’ country’.

As Isin and Wood insightfully note ‘debates over citizenship inevitably spill into issues of identity’ (1999: 13). It is important to note that Lebanese citizenship is granted through a patrilineal system. This results in people whose fathers are Lebanese being recognized by the Lebanese state as ‘qualified’ to receive Lebanese citizenship. This is the case though some people may feel Lebanese if only their mothers are Lebanese. In the end it is the state that ‘identifies individuals based on set criteria such as birth, blood (sic), nationality and registers them with identity papers such as passports and citizenship certificates’ (Isin and Wood 1999: 4).

However, as Isin and Wood insightfully note, ‘the nation-state as a sovereign polity is under pressure especially among the emerging cosmopolitan classes’. Their observation convincingly reminds us to pay attention to the global context in which

migration takes place.  They point to both globalization and postmodernism as pressures that ‘challenge the monopoly of the nation-state over the emotive commitments of its citizens,’ (1999: 7).

Under these two pressures, stable identities are taken over by fragmented or multiple identities, national concerns may be taken over by global ones, such as environmental concerns, and staunch patriotism is taken over by consumption, ‘a proliferation of tastes and identities’, and ‘a multiplication of lifestyles’ (1999: 91). Rather than seeing themselves as clear-cut and ‘pure’ citizens in a nationalistic sense, returnees, who often possess dual citizenship, may see themselves as having hybrid, fragmented even  multiple identities. They may identify themselves first as members of a particular social group before identifying themselves as national citizens (Isin and Wood 1999). As Frey puts it, though the state is ‘still of overriding importance the existing institutionalized relationship between individuals and governments is ill equipped to cope with the problems of a global world’ thus resulting in ‘multiple identities going above and beyond nationality and becoming the rule’ (2001: 3). For example, some returnees may identify themselves first as being part of a certain family before identifying themselves as Lebanese citizens as the family or kinship network  may offer them more of a support system than the state. Khalaf shows for instance, that due to the ‘large-scale devastation of the state’, many Lebanese turned to ‘primordial ties and loyalties, particularly those which coalesce around family, sect and community’ for refuge and identity (2003).

Thus, determining who exactly is to be called Lebanese is a rather controversial and problematic issue. As Frey notes, ‘the existing concept of citizenship, with its principle of immutable, monopolistic and lifelong attachment to one nation, in many respects does not fit the requirements of persons acting in a global society. This holds in particular for internationally highly mobile persons’ (2001: 17). Lebanese who  ‘flit back and forth between  ‘homeland’ and such diverse locales as Buenos Aires, New York and Lagos’ (King, 2005: 5) can certainly be considered as ‘highly mobile persons’  (Frey, 2001: 17). Ulf Hannerz’s work on the distinction between ‘globals’ and ‘locals’ is insightful in that it helps us understand the fact that migrants, including returnees, can sometimes view themselves as ‘globals’ or ‘cosmopolitans’ and may feel different than and ‘detached from’ the ‘locals’ who never left their home country’ (1996).Frey’s work is provocative in suggesting that citizenship be made more flexible (2001: 17) . Nonetheless, Cohen’s study on diasporas is wise in heeding that there are ‘counter-tendencies’ such as nationalism, to globalization (1997: 169). Nationalistic sentiment and loyalties in Lebanon, for instance, can be said to be on the rise since the unfortunate assassinations of former Prime Minister Hariri and prominent journalist Samir Kassir. As Fisk illustrates, recalling the manifestations that took place in the wake of March fourteenth at the ‘Liberation Square’: ‘Never has the red, white and green Lebanese flag been used as so poignant a symbol of unity’ (The Independent 2005). The attempted assassination of journalist May Chidiac has further fueled this ‘Cedar Revolution’ or collective mobilization even more. An extensive critique of citizenship however, lies outside the scope of this study. To simplify matters, I limited the target population to those whose fathers are Lebanese or of Lebanese origin, in the formal or legal sense. 

Stages of Return Migration 

Demuth insightfully suggests that returning to a country of origin involves several steps such as a ‘starting phase’ whereby people decide whether or not to migrate; a traveling phase whereby people actually travel from one place to another; an arrival phase whereby people either enter or are rejected from a ‘safe haven’ and an integration phase whereby people feel included or excluded from society (2000: 23).  However, he fails to note that people, such as young children, may also migrate

involuntarily, as ‘tied movers’, due to a household decision (Chiswick 2000: 61). However, though tied-movers do not choose to migrate, they can return more easily to their country of origin than refugees (Brettell 2000). As Breckner indicates, in order to really begin to gain an understanding of return migration we should see the different steps of migration as interrelated (2000).   CHAPTER 2

                         Chapter two outlined some of the previous work done on return migration. This chapter outlines the methodology and research design used to carry out the empirical research needed to determine why return migration to Lebanon took place, how it was sustained over time and why some returnees contemplated re-emigration.


            Returnees are complex and sensitive human beings who undergo several psychological, emotional and meaningful experiences. Such experiences though shaped in part by social structures are also personal and subjective. To begin to gain an in-depth understanding of these experiences it is thus vital to treat returnees as both objective and subjective individuals rather than as faceless numbers. Qualitative research designs attempt to make sense of, interpret and offer rich descriptions of phenomena in terms of meanings people bring to them in their natural setting and are, thus well suited to the study of return migration. They can explore the experiences of returnees in more depth than quantitative methods and can capture the subjective feelings of returnees in ways quantitative and empirical surveys and methodologies cannot.

Though quantitative statistics may be used to shed light on the extent of return migration, official population statistics in Lebanon are not easy to find nor very reliable. Also many cases of return migration may have been left unreported. Many returnees, for instance, may have Lebanese citizenship and may thus pass through customs as easily as if they were coming for a short vacation. On the border entry card foreigners (who may also be Lebanese citizens or entitled to Lebanese citizenship) are not asked to indicate whether or not they are returning to live in Lebanon; nor are Lebanese citizens required to answer such questions. For these reasons, along with time constraint and a preference for a more in-depth subjective look at returnees’ experiences, the extent or magnitude of current return migration was not focused on. The striking fact that about 40,000 are said to have returned between 1992 and 1993 (UNICEF 1995) however, was kept in mind throughout the research.

 Interview Participants

 As a Lebanese returnee, I approached the participants as an insider. Though some critics may argue that this might have introduced an element of bias into my research, I agree with Janesick that there is no such thing as a ‘value-free or bias-free design’ (1994: 212). My personal biography situated along class, ethnic and gendered lines certainly affected the research in some way but as feminists argue, real objectivity is about making one’s position clear as opposed to invisible (Revisiting Feminist Research Methodologies 2003). That I am a returnee gave me certain insights and allowed me to empathize reflexively with returnees more than if I had been an outsider.

To gain a deeper understanding of the adjustment process of returnees it would have been interesting to compare the adjustment process of returnees returning from non-Arab countries with that of returnees returning from Arab countries. I suspect that those returning from non-Arab countries probably face more difficulties adapting to Lebanon than those returning from Arab countries as it is more likely that they face more language and cultural barriers than the latter. However, due to time constraints limiting my sample size, I did not wish to expand my target population too much to make room for valid comparisons among interviewees. I thus interviewed only returnees who returned to Lebanon from non-Arab countries.

            Unlike ESCWA’s study (ESCWA 1993) I did not confine my exploration to solely labor returnees. This is bound to do justice to the various types of returnees who return for various reasons. In order to ensure that a variety of returnees were studied, I interviewed both non-professionals under the age of thirty, who returned for non-professional reasons, and older professionals or spouses of professionals approximately above the age of forty-five who may or may not have returned for professional reasons and who may or may not have retired. 

Ideally sample size should depend upon ‘the point of saturation’, i.e. when no more new information is collected (Morse 1994: 226). Due to the detailed and in-depth nature of the study, the sample size was limited to time constraints. I had initially planned to interview thirty people. Such an optimum size would have allowed me to have enough data to explore a variety of experiences, yet it would also protect me from being saddled with too much data which cannot be managed meaningfully. I had planned to divide the thirty interviews equally into two groups of returnees. Finding fifteen returnees approximately above forty-five years of age who were either professionals or married to professionals was not a problem. The response rate for this group turned out to be 100 percent meaning that all those approached to do the interview accepted and participated in the research. However, finding fifteen returnees under the age of thirty proved to be problematic as many Lebanese under the age of thirty who emigrated either never returned to their home country or re-emigrated again after their return. This is symptomatic of the extent of the brain drain in the country. Out of twelve returnees under the age of thirty who were approached, only nine or seventy-percent participated in the study. One refrained for personal reasons, another was traveling and the third was actually in the process of re-emigrating.

All twenty-four participants returned anytime after the end of the civil war i.e. approximately from 1990, up until a year before the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri i.e. the fourteenth of February 2005. I felt it would be interesting to see whether this unfortunate assassination affected the adjustment process of returnees as well as their decision to stay or leave Lebanon in any way. I also felt that interviewing returnees who had returned for at least a year was important in order to make sure that sufficient adaptation time was provided for before returnees were interviewed. Gender and religion were excluded as criteria for the suitability of participants in the study.

Snowballing techniques, unlike random techniques, ‘do not allow every individual in a given population the same probability that he/she will be included in the sample’ and thus offer a sample that is less representative of the ‘total population’ than random techniques (Burgess in Macchiavello 2001-2002: 4). Nonetheless, snowballing techniques are often used when the exact size of a group is ‘unknown or can only be estimated’ (Burgess in Macchiavello 2001-2002: 2). Since the exact number of Lebanese returnees is unknown, I resorted to snowballing techniques to find my sample. Initial participants were contacted directly though an informal network of personal family friends my parents or I had made while living abroad. Each participant was then asked if they knew of any other returnees that would be interested to participate in the interview.

 Interview Structure: Semi-structured Interviews

Retrospective in-depth interviews that look at each individual as their unit of analysis, in my view are the most appropriate tools to use in shedding light on the meaningful experiences of returnees.

Group interviews, though accessible may be problematic in the sense that interviewee answers may be influenced by a group effect and in the sense that some members of the group may dominate the conversation and thus silencing others (Fontana Frey 2000).

I also felt that structured interviews or surveys prove to be problematic in that they are not flexible enough and thus do not leave room for participants to fully express themselves in their own terms (Fontana Frey 2000). It is important for interviews to be somewhat structured though in order be able to generalize findings and to make sure that certain vital questions are asked in order to trigger issues participants may have not thought of bringing up otherwise (Revisiting Feminist Research Methodologies 2003). Totally unstructured interviews are too time consuming and may be more difficult to transcribe.

Reflexive semi-structured interviews, I started to realize, are best suited for this study. They allow interviews to be ‘adapted en route’ so that they are ‘sensitive to the meanings and issues raised by the interviewee that often go beyond the initial hunches of the interviewer’ (Revisiting Feminist Research Methodologies 2003:5). They allow the interviewee to ‘correct’ or add to the researcher’s analytical categories if necessary. They allow us to gain an in-depth understanding of the human, emotional and psychological experience of return migration by allowing interviewees to respond and articulate their experiences as whole, complex, sensitive human beings rather than as faceless numbers.

Thus reflexive semi-structured interviews were carried out over a two-month period this summer (during August and September of the year 2005). Twenty-three of the interviews were conducted face to face with each participant. On average, each interview lasted about an hour. Participants were given the choice to be interviewed in their homes, in their work place or at my house. These interview settings were chosen to ensure that participants were provided with a private, quiet and relaxed atmosphere in which to express themselves comfortably. Only one interview was not conducted face to face but was conducted by the interview schedule being sent to the participant via e-mail as she had already re-emigrated. In this case the participant was contacted twice as clarification of some answers was needed, as it could not be made on the spot as in a face-to-face interview.

To ensure an objective and grounded portrayal of returnee experiences, findings must be meticulously noted. Initially, I had planned to facilitate the transcription process of the interviews by audiotaping the interviews upon the permission of the interviewees. However, after realizing after the first few interviews that the participants felt more comfortable without their being audiotaped I decided not to audiotape the interviews. Instead, I documented the data by taking detailed notes during the interviews. ‘Raw’ information gathered from interviews is ‘fragile’ in the sense that as time passes it can be ‘difficult to reconstruct’ (Wood 2000: 2). The clarity, ‘flashes of insight’ and ‘cues not captured on tape’ that an interviewer gets during an interview may be lost as time passes (Wood 2000:3). Thus I made sure to type a report of my findings ‘at the end of each day of interviewing’ (Wood 2000: 2). I made sure to paraphrase or quote any findings I find relevant to my study (Wood 2000: 2). Typed notes are clearer and more organized than hand-written notes.

The interview analysis consisted of re-reading the recorded typed notes to ‘carry out a comparative assessment’ of the data and to draw patterns and ‘identify connections’ between common themes, ideas, variables and experiences that (Wood 2000: 4) were expressed by returnees. I made sure to be both ‘sensitive’ to what is mentioned and not mentioned (Wood 2000: 4).

 The Interview Schedule

All the participants were asked the same questions to guarantee the comparability of the interviews. The formulation of the questions asked was based on trying to determine why return migration to Lebanon took place, how it was sustained over time and why some returnees contemplated re-emigration. The first twenty questions were asked to determine the personal background of returnees including their age, sex, marital status, employment status and citizenships as well as to determine where and for how long they had lived, the extent to which they remained in contact with their ‘roots’ and why and under what circumstances they left and returned to Lebanon. The rest of the questions were aimed at determining the perceptions returnees had of the way of life in their country of origin before and after their return as compared to their perception of the way of life in their host countries. They were aimed at determining their adaptation process including the difficulties and facilitations they encountered. They were also aimed at determining the self-identification of returnees and finally were aimed at determining the extent of re-emigration of these returnees. A copy of the actual interview schedule can be found in the appendix.

To close the interview all the participants were asked if they wished to add or express any further visions, hopes or thoughts in order to make room for what may have been left out by the interview schedule and in order to do true justice to their experiences.

Ethical Considerations

It is important when undertaking any research inquiry that no harm is caused to participants (Punch 1994). The interviews were thus conducted only after the Institutional Review Board of the American University of Beirut approved of the interview schedule and consent form.  I made sure that the anonymity and privacy of the participants involved in the study were secured by keeping their identity confidential by not including their real names in the study (Punch 1994). I respected their right to refuse to answer certain questions or to stop the interview before its completion and I informed them that the transcriptions of interviews would be thrown away after the completion of the thesis.  I made sure to inform them of the nature of the research and asked them to sign consent forms as proof of their informed consent to willingly participate in the research project for no financial remunerate at the beginning of each interview (Punch 1994). This protected participants from feeling deceived or from feeling that their privacy was violated.



 The aim of this chapter is to present the major findings of my exploration with an effort to account for why return migration to Lebanon took place, what rendered the adaptation process of returnees more difficult or easier and why some of them contemplated re-emigration. It does so by giving voice to the returnees’ themselves and by allowing their own words to reflect on their experiences. Before doing so, providing a brief background of their profiles will be instructive by way of highlighting the circumstances associated with their decisions to break away from and then return to their homeland.

 Profile of Returnees

As noted earlier, it must be kept in mind that we are dealing with a group who returned between 1990 and 2004, a year before the tragic assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri, on February 14, 2005. Both the young group, those under thirty years of age, and the comparatively older group, those over forty-five, were interviewed to ensure a wider representative sample.

In terms of their national background, all the returnees, except for two who had French mothers, were offsprings of Lebanese parents. With the exception of one, all the respondents hold dual citizenship. The younger and older generations differed slightly in their sex ratios. While in the older group there were twice as many males, it was the converse for the younger group; i.e. twice as many females. All the older respondents were married. Except for two childless families, the rest had children. As expected, none of the younger group was married or had any children.

In terms of their career or work experience, six of the older generation are currently employed, four are retired and one is unemployed and searching for a job.

Six of the younger generation are currently employed, one of which is studying at the same time and one is unemployed and searching for a job. All the respondents could be considered middle-class in socio-economic standing.

  Generally, they all have a fairly high record of education. Indeed, only two of the older generation have not had university or college education. Even the two non-university graduates received technical diplomas after completing their secondary education. Three-quarters of the graduates of the younger generation have already completed their university education. The rest are still pursuing it. With such a background, we can easily explore the group understudy.

 Why they left

            As both Breckner (2000) and Demuth (2000) insightfully indicate, in order to gain an understanding of return migration we should regard the different steps of migration as interrelated. Thus before beginning to understand return migration to Lebanon it is important to shed light on why returnees left their homeland in the first place. It is also important to see if they share any common predispositions and if circumstances and justifications for their migration converge on a set of common features. Both objective circumstances and subjective perceptions were considered throughout my analysis.

So my first question is why did Lebanese leave their homeland in the first place? The findings show that they left for a few reasons other than those related to work opportunities such as, the outbreak of the war, to pursue their studies or for family considerations. From the older group, six left because of the war and three left to pursue further studies abroad. Only six, about half, left for work reasons. This confirms my hypothesis that ESCWA’s study on return migration is limited in that it only focuses on labor migrants. Most left in the seventies and eighties. One left as early as 1959. The majority left Lebanon as adults. Exceptionally, three of them had spent some of their childhood abroad as well and thus had returned to Lebanon once before. All of the younger returnees, except for one who left at the early age of nine, had either been born abroad or had left the country when they were still infants. Unlike the comparatively older ones, of whom twelve claimed to have left the country voluntarily, they attributed their early displacement to their parents’ decisions to leave, either because of the war or because of work opportunities. This confirms Cheswick’s observation that people may migrate involuntarily due to a household decision (2000: 61). This also supports Demuth’s categorization of the starting phase of migration, namely that it begins with people deciding whether or not to migrate (2000: 23). The majority, of both older and younger groups, went either to Cyprus or France. Others went to Australia, the United States, Canada, Brazil, Russia, Germany and the Ivory Coast. 

Why and when they returned

Now that I have identified reasons why migrants left their homeland, I can turn next to consider why and when did they return? Overall, the results do not reveal any common patterns. Intervals and periods of returns and arrivals differ considerably. In other words, the findings reveal that while migrants might have had set plans before their departures, those initial expectations were not observed. Thus migration plans should be seen as flexible, rather than as concrete and predetermined. All of the older migrants, except for a couple who spent four years abroad, spent as much as ten years abroad. Six older ones, some of which did not think they would return at all when they left their homeland, returned sooner than they expected. One in particular, ended up returning after twenty-seven years due to her French husband’s wish to live in a country where he could work outside the French system. Four stayed longer abroad than they had expected. One for instance, thought that he was leaving for a ‘short period of six months’ but his work contract was renewed and he ended up staying in Cyprus for about seventeen years. Only four returned at the time they expected; their returns were often associated with their retirement. In particular, one declared that he had not set a time to return:

In a Hellenic country like Cyprus, I knew I would always be a stranger. I was not thinking of immigration. I felt I could return whenever I wanted to, that it depended on me and that nothing was stopping me from returning.

 An overwhelming majority of the older generation was planning to return to Lebanon, most of whom had experienced this longing to return while abroad. Both the fact that the war had ended and promises of the new regime encouraged many of them to move back to the country. Other reasons and justifications encouraged others. Those about to terminate their employment, for instance, wished to retire in Lebanon. As one put it, ‘he did not have the immigrant mentality’. To another, ‘work had ended in Cyprus so there was no more reason to stay there’. Only three, i.e. a fifth, returned due to a work transfer or offer. Six returned for the sake of their spouses or children. For instance, one had promised his wife who did not like living in the States, to return when the war was over and it was safe to do so. Another wanted his children, who had grown up abroad, to have the chance to learn Arabic and live in their ‘original environment’ surrounded by the Lebanese culture. Another had his children’s education in mind:

If it were not for the schooling of my kids, you would not have seen me here. Lebanon was not on my mind. I was happy in Cyprus. Cyprus gave me all of the aspects of life I needed: a good social life, family in a pleasant atmosphere, business results. But when the issue of my children’s schooling came up, the bell rang and I had to take a decision.

A couple returned due to feelings of nostalgia. Another had traveled a lot and wanted to be in Lebanon. Similarly, another was quite assertive when he indicated that he was never totally integrated in Brazil, had felt a lack of identity and that he needed to reconnect with his roots. Outstandingly, one was quite patriotic in his sentiment to return. He felt he needed to write a project on the Lebanese history of independence.

The younger cohort spent most of their early childhood abroad and returned at a different stage in their lifecycle than the older one. All, except one who came back as a young adult at the age of twenty-five, returned between the ages of eleven and seventeen, i.e. either as children or teenagers. Virtually all the older returnees, except for two who had spent about four years abroad, had also spent over ten years abroad. It is important to note in this regard, that the younger ones spent more time abroad than in their country of origin and that they did so at critical ages. Thus not only should the duration of time abroad be taken into consideration but the age at which such interludes had taken place. Equally important, the bulk of the younger generation did not choose to return but had to due to a family decision to return. Most felt that they did not want to leave their host country, where all their childhood friends were. In many cases their parents returned when the war was over and they thought it was safe to do so. As Youmna put it:

My parents returned when they thought it was safe and also because the Lebanese community in Lebanon was slowly disintegrating and life in Cyprus was becoming boring. They wanted me to have a feel for my heritage and to be exposed to my own culture, seeing as I was born and raised in Cyprus and had not been exposed enough to my Lebanese roots.

Only two younger respondents voluntarily chose to come back. One returned, at seventeen, to go to university since there were not many good universities in Cyprus at the time. The other decided to stay after being offered a job during a vacation in Lebanon.

These findings show that migrants return for various reasons and hence confirm my hypothesis that there are other push-and-pull factors besides those related to work opportunities. Neo-classical and new economics theories are thus limited in scope. Clearly, a broad in-depth interpretative framework is vital to the understanding of return migration. Khalaf’s (1987) and Davie’s (1992) work are thus useful in that they consider political, cultural and socio-psychological as well as economic factors when outlining determinants of migration. The findings also confirm that social network theory does not fully explain why migrants return to their country of origin. Social network theory can explain the return migration of those returning to be closer to social ties. It does not, however, explain the migration of those who returned for other reasons such nostalgia for one’s roots or the charismatic desire of one respondent who harbored the longing to write the Lebanese history of independence.

Ties to the Homeland

Before shedding light on the adaptation process of the returnees, it is important to note that their initial departures and eventual returns were not totally separate from each other but rather, were interconnected. While abroad all the returnees, to varying degrees, maintained contact with their homeland. None had completely cut ties from Lebanon during their stay abroad. Eight of the older and five of the younger generations visited Lebanon once or twice a year. Two of the older group visited as much as three or four times a year. One, in particular, sustained regular monthly visits while another visited Lebanon only twice in twenty-five years. Four of the younger group visited up to only three times during their entire stay abroad. Naturally, those who were living as close as Cyprus could afford to visit more often than those who were living as far as Brazil or Canada. These findings clearly match those of transnationalism and studies on the diaspora, which highlight back and forth movements of migrants between their native and host countries.

The entire older cohort, compared to only a third of the younger one, claimed to have access to a Lebanese diaspora abroad. Interestingly, the rest of the younger one claimed that they were too young to think of being connected to a diaspora. Some migrants felt that having access to a Lebanese diaspora while living abroad was like having the best of both worlds. As one expressed it, ‘always having Lebanese around while living in Australia was a good formula’. Similarly, one living in Cyprus noted that when surrounded by other compatriots it was like ‘living in Europe yet having the warmth of the Orient’. Often, such contacts did not remain at the informal level. A few became actively involved in establishing and participating in diasporic and voluntary associations. One, for instance, contributed to the establishment of a Lebanese cultural center in Cyprus. Another founded and was vice-chairman of a Lebanese-American organization in the States. He was also involved in the Gibran committee and helped solicit funds to establish the Gibran committee. Interestingly, the nature of some of their work also played a role in keeping them connected to a diaspora. One, for instance, was a Lebanese ambassador and was always working ‘for and with Lebanese’. Another was a manager of the Middle East Airlines. For some, participating in Lebanese diasporas was a source of pride. One respondent, with a bit of bravado proclaimed herself as ‘a good Lebanese’ and kept deep links with her mother country. Several others had access to a Lebanese church and a younger one, in particular, went to a Lebanese school.

These findings reinforce those of transnationalism and other studies on the diaspora, which suggest that even while abroad, migrants tend to perceive themselves as being part of a diaspora and consequently feel connected to, instead of completely cut from, their country of origin. My findings also reveal that such diasporic ties can be of varying degrees. While some speak of deep and enduring commitment, others seem more superficially connected. Naturally, the nature of one’s work and longevity of stay abroad are of important influence.  

Adaptation Process

            Having identified reasons for initial departures and eventual returns and having highlighted contacts with the diaspora and homeland in the interim, I will now move on to discuss the rest of the returnees’ migration ‘stories’ by shedding light on their adaptation process. First and foremost, the correlation between their expectations of life in Lebanon before their return and the actual reality met on the ground will be noted. Expectations not unmet can tinge a return with disappointment and set an adaptation process off to a bad start. Conversely, expectations surpassed can set the adaptation process off to a surprisingly pleasant start. Naturally, the expectations of the older generation who had lived in Lebanon before the war, and who, in many cases, idealized life in Lebanon before the war, were different than those of the younger one who had not even been born before the war.

            Secondly, a range of factors that rendered the adaptation process difficult, such as political and economic instabilities, will also be looked at.

  Third, a range of facilitating factors that rendered the adaptation process easier, such as creating a circle of friends or learning Arabic will be elaborated.

  Finally, it is important to note that some factors prove to shape all return experiences whereas others shape only some. C. Wright Mills, for example, insightfully distinguishes between personal troubles that affect only the lives of particular individuals and public issues that affect the lives of all or most people (1959). As he goes on to suggest:

            To formulate issues and troubles we must ask what values are cherished yet threatened and what values are cherished and supported? … When people cherish some set of values and do not feel any threat to them, they experience well-being. When they cherish values but do not feel them threatened, they experience a crisis either of personal trouble or as a public issue. And if all their values seem involved, they feel the total threat of panic.

            His suggestion is very relevant to the experiences of returnees and can be applied when trying to understand them. After all, they undergo adaptation problems or disquiet when their cherished ways of life are threatened. They also undergo adaptation facilities and well-being when their cherished ways of life are supported. None of them though, expressed feeling a sense of panic close to Mills’. In general, their adaptation experiences were tainted with both positive and negative encounters.

     Leon Festinger’s work on cognitive dissonance can also be applied to such experiences (1957). He suggests, for instance, that individuals tend to strive for consistency within themselves, between themselves and their surroundings and between what they believe and what they do. ‘In the presence of an inconsistency’, he claims, there is ‘psychological discomfort’ or ‘dissonance’. He indicates that this ‘almost always exists after a decision has been made between two alternatives’. This dissonance or frustration acts as a ‘motivating factor’, according to him, to push or pressure a person to reduce it (1957). Indeed, the respondents took a migration decision and compared the ways of life of two alternatives: their host and native countries. They also experienced frustration or dissonance, which they tried to reduce. Positive and attractive sides of living in the country obviously help but to a certain degree. If dissonance is too strong it may persist and result in contemplation of re-emigration. 

Idealization of the Homeland followed by Disappointment

As noted above, I will consider first the expectations respondents had before their return. Cohen’s study on the diaspora insightfully suggests that some Lebanese may experience an idealization of their ancestral homeland. Indeed, over half of the older generation had idealized life in Lebanon before the war and had been encouraged to return by promises of the new regime. Since, as will become readily apparent, many of their idealistic expectations were not realized and they did not find the “pearl”, “Switzerland” or “Paris” of the Middle East they once knew, an effort will also be made to account for the nature and sources of such disillusionment. This confirms structural accounts that suggest that the expectations of returnees may not always match the reality met on the ground. Thus the adaptation processes of these nine returnees were accompanied by unexpected disappointment and even shock:

I was encouraged to return by promises coming from officials. The new regime gave me hope. It made me think of the general Fouad Chehab who had been full of new ideas to put the country on the rails of modernism. But it turned out to be the worst regime, shameful, black and vile and the people were submitting. I closed myself on the past because in the past there were men not vicious ‘limaces’ in well-cut suits that leave a trail of shame. Before there were laws that prohibited vans coming with microphones and selling things but now they are not made to be respected. We take pride in having invented the alphabet but not even the red light is made to be respected. If you almost try to respect it you are lynched while the Bedouins of the desert learnt these rules and apply them. How can we not be ashamed? I don’t want a future for this country. I want the past we lived better then. We have regressed without knowing. Everything is camouflaged but Lebanon is like a gambler that has lots all its ‘fiches’ of development. We were evolving towards a unique system of living in common.  

Another disillusioned and embittered returnee had this to say:  

It had not been my intention to return so soon; I had planned to stay in Cyprus as long as the business was good.  But the war in Lebanon had stopped after the Al-Taif accord. Prime Minister Hariri impressed me and I saw potentiality and wanted to be a part of it. I never believed that this potentiality could be restricted to the hands of a few people. I found this after moving back. Lebanon was not the same as it used to be. It was no longer the catalyser of the region. Dubai had taken the place of Beirut. It was no longer the ‘plaque chauffante’ but the ‘plaque froide’. It didn’t occur to my mind that between 1975 and 1990 other countries were breathing while Lebanon was dying.  

Others expected to find the generosity and honor they once knew, describing their country as a ‘dream country’. Instead they had to resign themselves to shattered dreams:

Ideals had been shattered. Instead of more values, there were less. The war generation had no allegiance to anything; they had no ethics or morality. They were worse now than when the war broke out in seventy-five. At least then there was a movement for reform, for civil marriage but now all this is on the shelf. People are more clinched to their religion than ever. The speaker of the house still talks about East and West Beirut while there should be no more divisions.

      One interviewee claimed that it was disappointing to see a certain class of people get money too easily and become ‘spoiled, materialistic and superficial’. On the whole the disheartened returnees expressed feelings of deception, disappointment, shock and sadness to find that nothing had been learnt from the war years. In some respects, they were not yet psychologically prepared to return. Three of the older generation went as far to express feelings of regret at having moved back. This confirms the findings of structural accounts that suggest that the failure to gather enough information about ‘post-return’ conditions may have an impact on return experiences and may, in turn, result in contemplation of re-emigration (Cassarino 2004: 168). 

      However, to most of the older generation, who had lived here before the war, what they encountered upon their reentry was not a completely new discovery. One returnee found things to be much better than he had expected. Thus quite clearly, positive encounters that surpass previous expectations were also visible. I suspect that such encounters could result in contemplation of staying in the homeland for good. Thus perhaps structural accounts should add a positive flip side to their argument.

                  Conversely and not surprisingly, all, except for one, of the younger group, had little or no knowledge of the history of the country and thus harbored no illusions about returning with the hopes of finding their ‘ancestral homeland’. Rather, they were not returning with an idealization of the past but with sadness in their hearts at leaving their friends behind in their host countries. This was also mixed with anxiety as to how they were going to fit in. They had not even been born here before the war. Interestingly, and of key importance, one could argue that to a certain extent, the younger generation, unlike the older one, had to adapt to Lebanon for the first time as opposed to having to re-adapt. None of their preconceptions matched the reality they met. Strangely enough, two had no perception of Lebanon before their return. Some had based their perceptions on past visits to Lebanon during summer holidays and associated it to grandparents, the beach and holidays. Most expressed feelings of disappointment particularly with symptoms of superficiality. Others blamed their lack of proficiency in Arabic:

I was not aware of the language barrier as everyone kept saying ah it’s ok everyone speaks English and French also. But it’s not really the case and people tend to talk Arabic amongst themselves at times and so you feel left out. I thought it would have been easier to adapt.

This also supports the findings of structural accounts that draw our attention to the power of structures like language over agency and to the power they have on the adaptation process of returnees (Cassarino 2004: 168).  Again, not all returns start off on the wrong foot. At least two participants of the younger generation were of the view that the reality they met was better than they had expected. Joanne who had been on short summer visits before, was, for example, pleasantly surprised to find such a vibrant nightlife and people who were also English educated like herself.

Adaptation Difficulties

Along with the shock of realizing that some of their expectations did not meet the reality on the ground, returnees faced other adverse encounters which rendered their adaptation all the more problematic. They point to a range of factors, such as political and economic instabilities, that caused them to experience, to varying degrees, uneasiness. As was mentioned, it is important to note that some factors prove to shape all return experiences whereas others shape only some. When reflecting on their adaptation experiences respondents often compare life in Lebanon to the life they got used to living abroad. These findings converge with the self-evident ones of transnationalism that suggest that returnees might face difficulties re-adapting to their country of origin (Cassarino 2004). Interestingly, while reflexively expressing their own adaptation difficulties some dismissed Lebanon as a “sick” country in need of being salvaged.

I will categorize the difficulties encountered into higher-order and lower-order issues. Human beings, as Maslow indicates, have ‘higher and lower’ needs and ‘a hierarchy of values’ (1970). The frustration of such needs and values negatively influences their sense of well-being.

He shows, for instance, that one of their primary needs, besides physiological ones, is to feel safe or secure, i.e. to feel free from fear, anxiety and chaos. He argues that during periods of war such a need will be frustrated. Naturally, with Lebanon passing through a post-war period, and after having grown accustomed to living in safe environments abroad, respondents felt insecure in the country. Political and economic instabilities were identified by virtually all of them as sources compounding their adaptation problems. In this sense, as C. Wright Mills would say, these must be recognized as public issues and not merely as individual personal troubles.

Bachir: The country is not in good health. Everyone around me speaks of emigration non-stop. But if the youth come back what are they going to do? What is the economic program of the state? Where are the job offers? Often young people who study abroad come back overqualified. One person I know has a PhD in law and is working in a bank. 

Karim: In Lebanon the market does not boost you.  You have to really struggle to remain where you are. The best you can do is keep a status quo while you may feel like you need to thrive. The economy is stagnant. 

Suzy: There are no pension or retirement plans and there is no sense of work security. There are no employee rights. I have been unemployed for a year. People work work work and for what? 

Karim: In stable countries you do not have to constantly keep on guessing. Here you spend your time analyzing parallel matters by yourself and wondering what the end of the tunnel will be like. It takes energy from you. During work time, your mind is in politics, on the ‘infijar’ (bomb) that happened here or there. Psychologically you are not at ease. It can make you feel both tired and nervous. 

            Likewise, the deficiency in civility, at both personal and public levels, including corruption, the lack of discipline and the violation of human rights, further frustrated their need to live free of chaos, fear or anxiety:

Raymond: There is no gentlemen agreement. People are not serious, they do not show up when they say they will and use excuses like ‘ah! My grandmother was sick’, when later you find out they were doing something else. 

Pierre: Lebanese in Lebanon believe in what I call ‘organized chaos’. Just by judging the Lebanese on the road is to realize that freedom without limits is a negative conception of what true human relationships are. Such a property has influenced all aspects of life. Public administration became unconceivable disgusting. To get any basic service you need to go through a labyrinth of red tape besides a very low level of education of those responsible who create all kinds of problems to justify their imposition of tips in many contorted ways which is real abuse of power. This is part of the negative evolution of Lebanon. It was a big shock. In Cyprus the society is disciplined, they inherited discipline from the British. 

Samir: There is a good citizen-resident relationship in Cyprus. Though I was not a Cypriot, I was treated like one. I felt integrated in an honorable system that preserved administrative respect. I discovered the rights of the citizen. If you pay for a service in Cyprus, you have the right to know why it’s not working well and you get an explanation. You get used to it. Here, the system is retrograde even though there are the latest cars. Discipline has been lost. 

Christiane: In the US, people wait in line at a bank whereas here they just cut in front of you as if there were no line. The unwritten rule here is there are no rules. That was a major problem for me. 

Leila: The youth do not have freedom of speech here without being beaten or imprisoned. It’s shocking. 

Samir: Thirty or forty years ago journalists were not afraid to hit the heart of the problems. It’s important to say that a minister is corrupt if he is but today journalists do not dare write about the real problems. How can you not write about the fact that the parliament decided to close down MTV? How can you not write about the violation of rights? There is no more soul in the newspapers. The ‘plume’ has been assassinated. You find articles that mean nothing, that are a waste of trees. 

Lack of money for only one respondent, and being solicited for money for a couple of others also generated anxiety and frustrated their need to feel secure:

Fady: The building I tried to build, ‘finished me’. Seeing you came from outside, people want to take advantage of you left and right, day in day out. They are opportunistic. 

 Raymond: Family members solicit to ask for money. They organize their money badly. Yet they do nothing to sacrifice their standard of living. They still go to concerts or spend money on a new car. 

Another important need human beings have, according to Maslow, is to feel that they belong somewhere, such as to a group (1970). Language problems frustrated such a need, making some feel out of place at times. Not speaking or writing Arabic fluently proved to be a major barrier for part of the younger generation. All of them expressed facing difficulties either speaking or writing and reading it. One in particular, even had to drop out of the Lebanese University as some of her courses were in Arabic. She could not afford to attend an English speaking university like AUB. Christiane stressed that contrary to the popular impression that every Lebanese is multi-lingual, people often tended to speak in Arabic amongst themselves, which made her feel left out. Conversely, only two of the older generations expressed difficulties working with formal Arabic, one of which mentioned that he needed an assistant. Many of them mentioned the Arabic expression kil sein biinsein explaining that when you master one language, you are equal to one man and thus when you master two you are equal to two. Karim explained that one needs to speak Arabic in an ‘Arabic’ country, in the same way that one needs to speak “Roman”, when in Rome. However, a third of them admitted that their children had problems writing and reading Arabic. Some claimed that speaking French was an important social influence. Language thus proved to be a structural issue that could cause personal and professional distress.

The lack or loss of social networks also frustrated their need of ‘belongingness’ (Maslow 1970). One respondent of the older generation expressed that his adaptation process was tinged with personal sadness at finding that he had lost some of his old ties as can be seen by his saying: ‘Faces around me had disappeared; a lot of people I knew had emigrated. I could no longer find my society.’ Though the ticking of the biological clock is inevitable, it was referred to as more of personal trouble than a public issue.

  While older returnees could often contact an old network of friends that they had known before the war, making friends for a few of the younger cohort proved to be difficult at first. Some, however, were surprised to find that they made friends quickly. Thus difficulty in making friends was found to be a personal trouble rather than a public issue. This confirms the findings of social network theory that show that social ties can have an impact on the adaptation process. Christiane expressed her difficulty as follows:

Social life was difficult. It was difficult for me to make friends at first. I felt I had been exposed to more. Jokes, tastes, music and clothing were different here than in the states. I had a rich educational upbringing and I know how to change a tire of a car because they teach you in eighth grade in the States whereas here some grown up men don’t even know how to. They have the ‘we’ll get someone to do it’ mentality. 

Difficulties identifying to cultural customs or national character traits also did not help returnees feel like they fully belonged to the Lebanese society. They found it difficult, for instance, to identify to its superficial and materialistic sides:

Raymond: There is no delicacy or ‘finesse’. In Europe you can go sit on the Champs Elysee in your pajamas and people will not interpret it badly.  

Elie: In North America people are much more down to earth than here. Here it’s hard to live simply and independently because people you know act like they own the world. 

Karim: Here, where you had dinner last night, not the content of the conversation you had is what matters. Though there are a lot of nice restaurants here, I avoid going to them sometimes because I do not like to have to watch my moves or what I am wearing. I prefer small coffee shops. 

Samir: There is a problem of social standing here.  To take the bus is seen as something shameful. People are pretentious here. People talk about cars and how much money they have. 

Pierre: Materialism and individualism are so dominant in the life of a Lebanese that there is no longer any room for true transparent friendships. 

Suzy: They have an obsession with weight here. If you are not skinny it’s not good enough. 

Even the quality of television was seen to be of superficial value: 

Bachir: Even TV in Lebanon is tiring. What is the role of TV? I don’t care if the president received the deputy. I’m sick of meetings. I care about him showing us how he is stopping people from hurting or breaking the mountain or the trial of someone causing an environmental disaster. The news should show us what is accomplished on the field. There is a big difference between Lebanon and countries like France. In France they mention RESULTS. They show you documentaries. 

Samir: The LBC created by Bachir Gemayel is different than today’s commercial LBC. TV here has become full of shallow words and repetitions. It’s the psychology of the masses. 

            Though an older female respondent praised the gallantry of Lebanese men, some found it difficult to identify with the sexist aspects of the society:

Joanne: I had not been exposed to some people’s mentality before. Here it’s sexist big time. It’s a man’s world. Some guys find it hard to treat women like they treat their guy friends. They perceive a difference. 

Tony: I can’t stand the Lebanese mentality here. The wife stays home and the man is dominant. 

Several said that the invasive and stressful sides of the Lebanese society caused them much personal unease:

Raymond: People come without calling. They are pushy, sticky, intense, curious and suffocating. You have no privacy. Enough is enough! 

Isabelle: The social life is stressful. You cannot say ‘no’ without being tough

or rough! Also there is a curiosity of your personal life. You are not anonymous like in France. 

Hani: People know everything about you, even if you had a haircut! There is no privacy. 

Patrick: People are abrasive here and always try to defend useless and meaningless points. 

Others found that religious fanaticism and the lack of civic consciousness, such as the lack of awareness towards protecting the environment, threatened the way of life they got used to living abroad and caused them to feel moral turpitude. Psychologically, it is difficult to return to and feel like one belongs to a fanatic environment when one got used to living in a more secular or tolerant one, where religion is largely seen as a personal source of well-being. It can give the impression that one is regressing and that itself may exacerbate the sense of moral unease:

Samir: Invented the alphabet? They cannot even stop at a red light. They better go back and learn the basic rules of collectivity.  

Maya: They lack the rules of civism. They do not wait their turn in line, are loud in restaurants and feel they are allowed everything. 

Bachir: There is religious fanaticism instead of a move forward. It would be nice if people did not keep asking you where you are from in Lebanon to get to your religion. We are in 2005. 

Samir: Religious men and fanaticism have done a lot of harm to humanity. The vice of Lebanon was confessionalism. People are born to confessionalism instead of to nationalism. 

As mentioned earlier, transnationalism suggests that returnees may feel marginalized from the local way of life (Cassarino 2004). A quarter of the older and three-quarters of younger generations felt marginalized or excluded. Interestingly, several stressed that they excluded themselves out of choice. It is somewhat expected that the younger ones were more likely to feel marginalized since they lived abroad longer during critical and formative childhood years.

The absence of ordinary amenities, i.e. electricity and water cuts, the lack of public transportation, the lack of urban planning and noise pollution did not frustrate the primary needs of respondents or at least not as much as the other factor. Following Maslow, they might be considered as lower-order issues.

Nonetheless, the lack of public transportation or the reckless driving proved to be difficult to adapt to in the initial stages of the return for the bulk of the respondents. These are public issues also, though different returnees may respond to them differently. For instance, some returnees took longer to get used to the chaotic system than others:

Isabelle: I was afraid to drive when I first came here. It took me almost two years to drive here. Moving from one area to another is difficult. You can take taxis but there are no common transportations. You cannot walk in this country. 

Mary: When I first moved here, I felt like a zombie stopping at a red light and having all the cars behind me beeping at me. 

Samir: If try to stop at a right light here you are almost lynched for it. 

Raymond: Rights are not met here. If someone has ‘wasta’ they think they are above the law. In Europe the law gives you both your right and your duties. 

Elie: The transportation services here are nil. My seventeen year old has to always take taxis, as we don’t live in the city whereas normally you would take buses. 

Joanne: Transportation is horrible here. When I first came I was young so I couldn’t drive. I was dependent on my friends to pick me up. It’s not possible to walk around. Nobody does and the country doesn’t really allow it. 

Having grown accustomed to living in a quiet environment, it is frustrating to return to the loud honks of Beirut’s impatient drivers, to the drills of building constructors or to the cacophonic sound of religious calls. As Samir suggests, ‘People here got used to noise; even though the war is over, they still need noise! There are fireworks all the time!’. Noise pollution can be seen as more of a personal trouble than a public issue since it was raised by only a couple of respondents.

The power of physical landscape over personal well-being should not be underestimated. Maslow indicates, for instance, that ‘in some individuals there is truly a basic aesthetic need. They get sick from ugliness and cured by beautiful surroundings’ (1970). A few respondents expressed that the lack of urban planning or physical space in the country caused them to feel personal malaise and frustration:

Karim: The lack of urban planning here disturbs me a lot. Though inside places are nice, on the outside they are ugly.  

Suzy: The close proximity of buildings is hard to adapt to. People are always in your face. You go on your balcony and you see people or the back wall of a building. 

            Getting the logistics over with, such as finding a good plumber or knowing where the supermarket was, proved to be the least problematic part of adaptation process. I would not go as far as to call it a public issue or a major hurdle but rather a prosaic and mundane problem in any migration experience.

Though all the respondents, notably some more than others, encountered some difficulties adapting and adjusting to certain aspects of life in Lebanon, only six older ones described their return as having been difficult and as much as twelve did not regret having returned to the country. Some, who claimed that it had not been a particularly difficult process, stressed however that they needed time to adjust and one expressed that the process had not been ‘neat’. As much as half the younger ones found adaptation to be difficult and regretted having returned.  Access to adaptive venues and facilities helped render the adaptation process smoother and more pleasant. They helped returnees to experience, to varying degrees, a sense of well-being and empowerment. This differential access helps us understand why despite their encountering difficulties returnees did not always describe their adaptation process as having been a difficult one. Hence, rather than frame them in only a negative light, I try to demystify the complexity of their experiences.   

Adaptation Facilities:

As was noted earlier, one of the basic need human beings have is to feel safe or secure, i.e. to feel free from fear, anxiety and chaos (Maslow, 1970). The gratification of this need can positively influence their sense of well-being. Foremost, those who returned with visible manifestations of wealth and elevated socio-economic standing felt, naturally, more advantageous and more secure. Their prosperity, particularly in a status-conscious society like Lebanon, became their coveted ‘social capital’. Roger, obviously having this in mind when he said, ‘You need to be financially independent to be able to choose the kind of lifestyle you want to live in Lebanon’. Similarly as Isabelle pointed out, ‘Lebanon is easier to live in than Europe if you have the money. You can hire a maid and driver and enjoy the easiness of life. But again, that is if you have the money’. Other symptoms of social capital such as owning a house also helped the adaptation process. It also made visiting the country while abroad easier. Nine of the older interviewees owned a house before their return. One owned a piece of land and another had already a house rented. Two moved in with their families.  As Samir noted:

Having a house helped, I had no investing to do. Prices went up since the war and I knew friends who had sold their house in Beirut before leaving and could not afford to live in Beirut again since their return. So if I didn’t have my house, I might have been discouraged to return. 

Owning a company also helped as seen by Roland’s stating that having an ongoing company that his father had refused to close made his return and adaptation easier. 

Feeling that Lebanon is a relatively safe country also made them feel more secure:

Joanne: It is safe here. Even the deken shopkeeper around the corner knows you and can help you if you need help. 

Suzy: I don’t feel scared to walk in the road even at two in the morning, whereas in the States I would be. I can forget my car unlocked here with all my cds and still find them in the morning. People here still stop in the middle of the road if you have a flat tire and help you. It’s nice to know that, it makes you feel safe. 

Elie felt reassured that his children were safe knowing that he knew the children they hung out with and could make sure they were not drug addicts. 

As mentioned earlier, another basic need human beings have, according to Maslow, is to feel that they belong somewhere, such as to a group or ‘clan’ (1970). Understandably, being a Lebanese citizen and being able to speak their own language, especially for the older ones, helped the adaptation process. As Raymond explained, ‘having a reference point and feeling like you belong helped.’ Leila, for instance, felt that she was in ‘her’ country surrounded by ‘her’ people as opposed to feeling like she was a foreigner or ‘alien resident’. Language facilities, particularly re-learning one’s native tongue was of assistance to the younger cohort.

Not remaining passive or inactive ‘spectators’, to use C. Wright Mills’ terminology (1959), helped returnees mobilize their disaffection and unease and feel empowered. Creating their own selected circle of friends, joining a social club or organization such as a bridge or rotary club, as well as having kinship ties proved to be of key importance to their adaptation and helped them satisfy their need to feel they belonged to their social environment. This confirms the suggestion of social network theory that associative ties, as well as kinship ties, play a vital role in helping returnees mobilize and cope with the disheartening realities of their re-entry. For Bachir, getting married really helped him adapt to the country. For others, being close to their families was, naturally, helpful particularly in a kinship culture like Lebanon’s.

Elie: If it were not for the support I got from my friends and family here I would not have got out of some personal problems. In the States you don’t have the same kind of support. Having my children close to me helped too. They can grow up with their grandparents. 

Isabelle: Joining Beirut Accueil, a French group full of expatriates made life easier for me because you visit and learn about all kinds of places you would not have otherwise. 

Patrick: The astronomy club helped me a lot. I got to learn about places in Lebanon, I gained relations and learnt how to deal with certain situations. If any of us are in trouble we help each other out, we are like a family. 

Joanne: Joining University in freshman year helped me meet English educated kids who had lived abroad and had the same mentality as me. 

As Christiane put it, she discovered that she did not need to mingle with the masses and that making a couple of good friends was enough. More often than not these circles of friends tended to include other returnees. The majority of both generations expressed that they tended to get along better with them than with people who never left the country. This finding confirms the suggestion of transnationalism that migrants may identify with a community of migrants that have a ‘propensity for moving’ (Brettell 2000: 111). Unexpectedly, one went further to maintain that he got along even better those returning from the States than those returning from Europe. He felt that with them he could ‘just sit down to a casual dinner while watching a basketball game instead of sitting down to formal Lebanese style dinner’. Most attributed this to the fact that they had had more common experiences with returnees and could thus understand each other better. One in particular, mentioned that though he felt understood by other returnees, he wished to be understood by those who never left the country too. Some of the younger ones attributed this to the fact that they had shared a similar culturally rich upbringing with other returnees. However, a couple said they would not limit their circle of friends solely to them. One, in fact, went as far as to label this a ‘coincidence of network’. Incidentally or otherwise, one felt that though he got along better with returnees because they were more professional, he found that they lacked the warmth of those who had stayed. Many wished to clarify, however, that though they got along better with other returnees, they had the utmost respect for the Lebanese who never left the country and yet made it through the horrors and nightmares of the war.

Leila: I lived common experiences with other returnees: the anxiety, departure, and tranquility so it is more enriching.

 Pierre: I’m inclined to feel more at ease with other returnees who were impregnated with the discipline and mutual respects of fellow men. 

Maya: I identify more with other returnees as their mentality has evolved and changed. They can see the good and bad sides of the Lebanese. You learn to live differently abroad. Lebanese here are not simple. They can be showoffs and superficial, caring about superficial things like the way you dress while outside these things do not matter.

 Joanne: We have returned after so many years of being abroad, we share something in common, not having grown up here and bringing different yet similar experiences. We are re-adapting together. 

The warmth of traditional, cultural and neighborhood values also reinforced their sense of belonging:

Raymond: You are not anonymous in Lebanon. You are known by your name. When someone dies in the building, everyone lowers the music, attends the funeral and wears black. It’s respect and it’s beautiful. Everyone participates in celebrations and festivities like birthdays and weddings and coloring the Easter eggs at Easter. It makes you feel like you belong to an environment. 

The subjective perception that life is not greener on the other side, but that rather it is becoming better in Lebanon than in their host country, also helped them feel that they belonged to the Lebanese society more:

 Elie: Social life is a hundred times better here than in the States.

Mona: Here things are much more exciting. Culturally, there is a lot to do.  There are always festivals and expositions. You are fully equipped with movies and restaurants. When all the Lebanese were beginning to leave Cyprus, it was becoming boring. 

To a lesser degree, and thus considered a lower-order issue, the easiness of life, including the availability of domestic services, also facilitated the adaptation process. Sherif interestingly stressed that you find services in Lebanon that you cannot find in most advanced countries. Joanne, for instance, mused over the fact that ‘there is even McDonalds or Arguileh delivery’. 

Raymond: You can just shout out from you window to your shopkeeper ‘Hassan! A kilo of potatoes!’ and it will be delivered straight to your house. 

Samir: You are served at home. If you need your phone to be fixed, they come and take it and bring it back and it’s not expensive. In Cyprus there are no manouches 3al beit

Maya: The concierge takes only twenty thousand Lebanese liras per month to wash my car whereas in Canada I paid eleven Canadian dollars every time I washed my car and on top of that I had to wait in line in the snow. You have facilities of every day life here and it leaves you more time for leisure and activities. 

Other lower-order factors made the adaptation process smoother as well.  Being adept at acquiring the day-to-day ‘know-how’ and prosaic skills such as ‘knowing a good electrician, painter and plumber’ or ‘knowing where the shopping centers and supermarkets were’, proved to be very helpful. Getting a generator, central A.C or double-glazed windows to protect oneself from the unpleasant aspects of the post-war electricity cuts and noise pollution were also singled out by some of the respondents.

The general improvement of certain services proved to make the adaptation process smoother. As Mary explains:

Life may not be stable here but it is better than eight years ago. There are so many taxi offices now while before the troubles there were none. In seventy-three there were maybe two. Smallah! It’s like in Cyprus now.

 The pleasant climate and the beach, as indicated, in particular, by one respondent who returned from Canada saying that they put her in a good mood, as well as the proximity of places are other such factors. One should not underestimate the power of climate over well-being. As Raymond noted, ‘the proximity of places from each other is short. The sea and the mountains are ten minutes away from each other’. Roland, for instance, had to commute long distances from New Jersey to New York when he lived in the States, whereas in Lebanon he does not have to.

            Though fiscal laxity, the beauty of Lebanese women, the gallantry of Lebanese men, the standard of the education system, the tastiness of Lebanese food and the actual experience of living in a country that is in the process of improvement or development did not contribute directly to making their adaptation less problematic, the respondents saw them as positive factors about the country.

Those who had the means and the opportunity to revisit before their final return seemed, naturally, better prepared to cope with all the experiences of re-entry. One interviewee for instance, explained that she had prepared her house three months before her final move in order to make sure everything was ‘operational’.

 Time proved to be vital to the adaptation process of the returnees. It is important to provide for sufficient adaptation time before beginning to shed light on return experiences. This is why I did not include those who had returned less than a year ago in my sample. Indeed, many said that they needed a period of adjustment before they could adapt to Lebanon. Most needed a year or two to adjust. One said that it took her up to six years to adjust. To one respondent, however, time made no difference:

Until now I don’t feel completely adapted to the multiple windows and facets of Lebanon. There are multiple societies and different spaces here. Hizbollah followers are very different than people who have read Voltaire, for instance.   

            Being cosmopolitans, returnees to some extent, have to “surrender” to those aspects of the local culture they dislike yet cannot change or “master” (Hannerz 1996). They have to accept these as part of ‘the package deal’ that comes with their living in the country. Interestingly, they manage to do so by not fully committing themselves to the local culture and by remaining aware of ‘where the exit is’ (Hannerz 1996). The subjective perception that they are not stuck in Lebanon and can leave, if they wish to, facilitates their adaptation process. As Christiane interestingly put it: ‘The realization that I have dual nationality and can leave any minute I want to without needing to worry about getting a visa helps me a lot’. The very feeling that one is a free agent able to choose and act upon one’s life choices as opposed to being trapped provides many of the Lebanese a meaningful sense of empowerment.  

On “Caterpillars” and “Butterflies”: Reflections on Re-migration

 Having shed light on the adaptation process of the participants, I tried to see if and why their returns were permanent or temporary. How many of them remained aware of ‘where the exit’ (Hannerz 1996) was?  Had they returned home, as Hashimoto would say, as “caterpillars” to stay or as “butterflies” visiting for an undetermined period only to spread their wings and leave again (Hashimoto in Cohen, 1997: 98)?  To answer these questions, I explored the impact of return experiences on their emotional attachments to the country, levels of patriotism and desires to stay in the country or re-migrate. I tried to explore how and whether the latest political events, such as the unfortunate assassinations of former Prime Minister Hariri and journalist Samir Kassir and the foiled attempt on Mai Chidiac, had affected their thoughts on such matters. I also explored the extent to which they found migration to be a normal and expected part of their lives, their subjective perceptions of their identity and their portrayals of home.

I started probing into the nature of their emotional attachments to the country. Of the eleven respondents of the older generation, who felt emotionally attached to the country before their return, only one no longer felt so after his return. Conversely, all except one of the younger generation did not consider themselves emotionally attached to Lebanon before their return. This supports Demuth’s expected and almost self-evident suggestion, that not many people will still feel attached to their birthplace if they grew up elsewhere surrounded by a different culture (2000:24-25). Attachment though, can develop at a later stage after enough time has been spent in the homeland. Indeed, this was the case with three-quarters of the younger generation.

Probing further into the nature of their attachments, I inquired about their patriotic and nationalist sentiments. Evidently, patriotism or national pride and emotional attachments to the homeland can be interconnected. An overwhelming majority of both groups, felt more patriotic and more Lebanese since the latest events. The spectacle of events, particularly the collective enthusiasm sparked by the sustained mass demonstrations in Beirut’s central square in the wake of Hariri’s assassination, should not be overlooked as a source of such reinforced national sentiment. More so since the events had drawn together, which is rather unusual in the political history of Lebanon, a cross-generational and cross-confessional groups. This supports Cohen’s finding that national and ideal identities can serve as counter-tendencies to globalization (1997: 169). It also confirms my hypothesis that nationalistic sentiment and loyalties may be on the rise since the unfortunate assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri.  Furthermore such seemingly local and communal sentiments might well serve as venues for broader and cosmopolitan dispositions. As Khalaf evocatively notes (2003):

Roots have thus far been effective routes for socio-cultural and psychological mobilization. At least during certain interludes, when stripped of their bigoted and intolerant features, they became the bases for equitable and judicious forms of power sharing and the articulation of new cultural identities germane for co-existence and multi-culturalism. 

            Most respondents of both cohorts took part, to various degrees, in the uprisings and collective demonstrations of the fourteenth of March. Participating in such events, as remarked earlier, must have been significant in reinforcing their need for belongingness as seen by one younger respondent admitting the following:

When I was abroad I knew nothing about the war and did not feel Lebanese but by participating in these events with consciousness, I felt like I belonged. My brother, who was abroad, felt excluded.

            Only one expressed strong desires to leave the country since the outbreak of the events. He did not mince or muffle his disillusionment: ‘These events,’ he said ‘do not encourage me to stay in the country for five minutes!’ Surprisingly, the bulk felt that the situation did not make them want to pick up and leave the country. Patrick, another younger returnee, who had not lived through the war, unexpectedly expressed that the events gave him a rush of ‘pure adrenaline’ and made him feel ‘more adventurous’. Some of them did mention, however, that if the situation got much worse they would consider leaving. On the whole they all saw the events as seeds of positive change that would eventually turn to the advantage of Lebanon. A couple stressed that other countries in the world were also passing through unsettling times. In many cases, actively participating in these collective uprisings and bearing witness to such changes reinforced their feelings of empowerment. They felt that they could make a difference in their environment.

Elie: The random way the explosions are occurring is scary but the death of Hariri will hopefully bring changes. I’m happy I got to live this experience. I have never as patriotic as since Hariri’s death. 

Raymond: I hope it is the start of a turning page or new life. My children abroad were screaming at me to go back to France but I felt ashamed to leave. I needed to feel that solidarity. You can’t leave the country when it’s bad, you need to fight for it and be beside it in good and bad. 

Pierre: I’m not planning to leave. I am planning to change the country into a better one. Objectively, I have felt in the depth of my self the unity of the Lebanese in a spontaneous uprising since March fourteenth. I felt that the tragedy that befell might in the end prove to be a blessing in disguise. 

Isabelle: One of the explosions was a hundred metres from our house and our balcony exploded. Even with the bombs, though, I feel safe, I feel safer than in Paris. 

Bachir: It is sad for the country to suffer more but I am not planning to leave. It is human nature to feel feelings of belonging, even in difficult circumstances. Do we ask Eskimos why they stay in the cold regions? 

Samir: We’re putting an end to 30yrs of Syrian occupation, to a status quo. Of course some ligaments will be torn or hurt. There is a price to pay. Hariri’s death was the catalyser at a perfect timing to amplify the phenomenon generated by 1559. If they wanted they could do worse. Compared to what is happening in Iraq this is only noise. Yes, it is shocking but Hariri’s assassination was programmed to unleash regional political events. I will not leave because of a few explosions. It is the logical continuation. If it is to be reborn, Lebanon cannot do so in whispers. We are at the beginning of vast, deep changes that will be made not just in text or words but also in violence like when a child is born. But better to be born in violence than not at all. For the short term, I do not see a savage blind war erupting again. 

As noted earlier, migration plans are flexible and may change with time. I was curious to see to what extent initial return plans corresponded with actual realities. Three-quarters of the older participants, most of whom do not plan to re-emigrate, thought that they were coming back for good when they returned to the country. Only one, who had thought he was returning for good, adamantly wants to re-migrate if and when the possibility arises. Another does not wish to do so but is planning on leaving to be closer to his family in France. As he says ‘when you find yourself going to social events like weddings alone, you may miss your family and want to join them wherever they are’. Many of them, however, emphasized that despite their current plans to stay in the country for good, they would not hesitate to leave if the situation deteriorated to an unbearable degree or escalated into outright hostility. As Mona put it, ‘I’m not planning to leave but I have a phobia of war and when war breaks out in your country, you have to look for another destination’.

Two respondents stated that if they received a stable and long-term job offer abroad, then they would consider taking it. As Maslow shows, human beings have a need for self-actualization. That is they have a desire for self-fulfillment, namely to feel that they are doing what they are ‘fit for’. If this need is not gratified, they will feel discontent (1970). This can be applied to the returnees. If they cannot gratify this need in Lebanon they may attempt to do so by re-emigrating. Karim, for instance, said the following:

If I can see that somebody can provide me a place to function, which I can assume in an established team with a guaranteed, stable income, then yes I would migrate. And I would feel a sense of belonging there; I still need to feel it. It is as if a part of me were dead and needs to be revived. 

Yet, many of the older generation pointed out that at their age, it was more difficult to re-emigrate. To my surprise, I had not come across in my survey of the literature, any reference to age as a factor in restraining the impulse to re-emigrate. One explained that he was no longer twenty-five and felt like settling down rather than keep being de-rooted or on the move. If given a choice between being a “butterfly” or “caterpillar”, he veers towards the latter (Hashimoto in Cohen, 1997: 98):

You need courage at my age to venture to another country. At this age you are worried about losing money and not being able to get it back. Your mental drive with age becomes more hesitant. I never thought about that when I was younger because I had time to offset my losses.   

Being at an earlier stage in their lifecycle, the younger generation’s perceptions and attitudes on re-emigration, as one would expect, were totally different than the older one’s. They could more easily turn to re-emigration as a venue to self-actualization. Youmna, for instance, had already re-migrated. She justified her re-emigration as follows:

I felt that Lebanon, at the time, was not enhancing my spiritual guidance in terms of embracing other cultures, learning to acknowledge a more tolerant and accepting lifestyle with respects to daily living (what you wear, the friends you mix with). There came a time where I would watch TV and long to be part of a society that is not as judgmental as I felt the Lebanese society to be. For these reasons, I decided I should live in the States. 

While none of the older generation had done so, the entire younger group entertained serious thoughts or concrete plans of re-migration even if, in the meantime they had developed links to Lebanon. Patrick thinks that joining his brother in Australia is a ‘good idea’. Lucy explained that there is no future work-wise for the Lebanese youth in the country. Likewise, Tony felt he had no choice but to leave because of his future career plans to be a child judge, as Lebanese universities do not offer such a specialization. Joanne expressed that she would like to experience living in Europe for a while. Though Christiane has developed close ties with the Lebanese teenagers she works with, and though she feels a sense of responsibility towards them, she wants to do her PhD at some point and go back to the States, her other home:

I will leave again but with a specific purpose. I don’t know the timing but I want to do my PhD. I’m undecided about my return though. I feel a sense of responsibility towards the teenagers I work with here. Depression, homosexuality and premarital sex are rising like hot bread. They are sleeping giants. I’m here right now but things might change. 

Quite clearly, as the findings of transnationalism, social network theory and studies on the diaspora show, return migration can no longer be presented as the end of the migration cycle. Rather migration is inclined to become a normal part of their lives (Brettell and Hollifield 2000: 16). Only four of the older generation, however, felt that way. Interestingly, one said that he no longer considered going to his previous ‘host country’ as a form of migration. Rather he considered it more like ‘going to his other home’. On the other hand, a large majority of the younger sample found migrating to be a normal part of their lives. All the participants, both young and old, felt that traveling for short periods of time was a normal part of their lives. Some went further to express this reality is now an essential part of their lives and that it helped them in ‘replenishing their batteries’. As a result, they are more adept now at living and making the best of their stay in Lebanon.

Re-migrating is easier to do when one has a passport, such as a European or Canadian one, that is welcomed abroad. Instead of being burdened with visa and required document requests, one is received with little suspicion. As noted earlier, all the returnees have dual citizenship. Allegiance to the host country may facilitate, or in some cases, fuel predisposition to re-migrate. Many felt allegiance to both Lebanon and their host country.  Samir for instance expressed the following:

 ‘I feel multiple identities. Though I am also French and though I would take the same notes as him, before a French journalist judges my country, I will tell him to look at his more closely. No little girls are raped here every month’.

            Undeniably, unquestioned attachment to only one fixed national territory appears to be decreasing. Isin and Wood (1999) insightfully point to both globalization and postmodernism as pressures that ‘challenge the monopoly of the nation-state over the emotive commitments of its citizens’. As they suggest rather than seeing themselves as clear-cut, ‘pure’ citizens in a nationalistic sense, migrants who often possess dual citizenship may see themselves as having hybrid, fragmented or even multiple identities (1999). As Hannerz notes, cosmopolitanism is on the rise and is becoming a defining feature of the ‘world culture’ or order’ (1996). Only one younger returnee and only a third of the older ones, for instance, considered themselves ‘a hundred percent’ Lebanese! Rather, being cosmopolitans, they identify with different aspects of different ‘local cultures’, which they organize and blend into their own individual identity (Hannerz 1996). Some respondents expressed that they felt both Lebanese and international, cosmopolitan or like citizens of the world. Interestingly, such identity formations are neither cohesive nor monolithic. Instead, they tend to very in their expressions within one’s life-world. In other words, one could be “local” in observing his familial and kinship sentiments but  “cosmopolitan” in his cultural life and recreational pastimes and “global” in his business networks. Hani for instance, interestingly expressed that when it comes to business, he feels American; to language he feels French and to friendships and people, he feels Lebanese. Likewise, Roger expressed that he feels ‘like both a Lebanese and a cosmopolitan with a large international and spectrum, especially French’. Tony, one of the younger returnees, did not feel allegiance to any one nationality. Likewise, Karim of the older cohort no longer felt, after his return experience, that he could describe himself as a true Lebanese citizen ready to serve his country as can be seen by his saying the following:

Karim: Because I am deceived by what my country has offered me I feel I cannot offer my country many things in return. There should be a mutual exchange between oneself and one’s country. I don’t feel this self-belonging anymore. I feel I can belong to any other country that can provide me with discipline, protect the rights of my children and offer easy access and services. Lebanon is far from this stage. Jack Kennedy said ‘ask what you can give your country not what your country can give to you’ but it is not a one-way relationship. I need to belong to a place that makes me feel safe and stable, where my struggles come to good results and where I feel I have a future more of less ensured. None of my expectations were met. I don’t belong to the country and the country does not belong to me. It is not normal for a citizen to feel this way. 

These findings confirm Frey’s observation that ‘the existing concept of citizenship, with its principle of immutable, monopolistic and lifelong attachment to one nation, in many respects does not fit the requirement of personal acting in a global society. This holds in particular for highly mobile persons’ (2001: 3). They also confirm my hypothesis that determining who exactly is to be called Lebanese, especially in this postmodern era, is a rather controversial and problematic issue.

Nonetheless, whether “globally” or “locally”, whether in the world or in a specific place, human beings have an existential desire to feel at home or in Maslow’s terminology, to experience ‘at-homeness’ (1970). Respondents associated home with several qualifications. They associated it with: the family, good friends, feeling at ease in one’s environment, speaking the same language as people around them, security and tranquility. Some of the younger ones also associated it with autonomy and independence.

I tried to find out whether or not they felt at home in Lebanon. I had initially suspected that those who did not were more likely to re-migrate than those who did. Over half of the older cohort and surprisingly three-quarters of the younger one expressed that they felt at home in Lebanon and that Lebanon was their home. Many of these, however, mentioned that they also felt at home in their host country and many of the younger ones entertained thoughts of re-migration. A couple of the older ones stressed that though they felt at home in Lebanon, they could feel at home in any country where all their family was. In their case home, as the expression goes, is ‘where the heart is’. A few others felt that after traveling so much, no one specific place was home.

Returnees, having experienced an alternative way of life than the local one are, to use Hannerz’s terminology (1996), ‘never quite at home again, in the way real locals can be’. In some cases they experience a ‘feeling of detachment, perhaps irritation with those committed to the local common sense and unaware of its arbitrariness’. Yet this does not always lead to their re-emigrating or entertaining concrete plans of leaving Lebanon. Thus it turned out to be difficult to access the extent to which associations with home led to re-migration or to serious contemplation of re-emigration.

Whether they planned to re-emigrate or not, the respondents tended to ‘make selective use of their habitat’ (Hannerz 1996) by making a selected circle of friends that included some other returnees in order to orient their daily lives, as much as possible, to suit their cherished values


The objective of my inquiry was to shed light on why return migration to Lebanon takes place, what renders the adaptation process of returnees more difficult or easier and why some of them contemplate re-emigration. I aimed to do so in a way that did justice to the complexity of their experiences. Like Breckner (2000) and Demuth (2000), I regarded the different steps of migration as interrelated.  Like Chiswick (2000), I found that while some migrants voluntarily chose to return to their country of origin, others were subject to a household decision. The bulk of the younger generation of respondents, for instance, did not choose to do so. This finding adds to Demuth’s (2000) claim that migration begins with migrants deciding to migrate.  As initially expected, the respondents were found to have left and have returned to their country of origin for various reasons other than those related to work opportunities. Such findings cast further doubt on the perspectives of neo-classical and new economic theories in that they only focus on migration from an exclusive economic standpoint. Social network theory offered, in this regard, a deeper reading of return migration. It could account for the migration of those returning to be closer to social ties. It could not, however, account for the migration of those returning for reasons such as nostalgia for one’s roots. Thus the hypothesis that a more extensive in-depth perspective is vital to the understanding of return migration was confirmed.

The results also provide ample in support of transnational studies on the diaspora. For example, while abroad, the majority of the respondents did tend to take part in diasporic activities and clubs and consequently did tend to feel connected to, instead of completely cut from, their country of origin. In view of the responses received, I added slightly to these findings by suggesting that such diasporic ties can be of varying degrees. While some spoke of deep and enduring commitment, others seemed more superficially connected.  Naturally, the nature of one’s work and longevity of stay abroad were of important influence. Once reasons for their returns were identified, I proceeded to shed some light on their adaptation process. The findings again confirmed those of transnationalism which suggest that migrants may face difficulties re-adapting to their country of origin. They were also in support of structural accounts that suggest that unmet expectations and lack of information about life in the country of origin can tinge a return with disappointment and trigger thoughts of re-emigration. Over half of the older returnees faced disappointment at not finding the ‘Paris of the Middle East’ they once knew before the war. Yet the younger generation, who had not been born before the war, tended not to idealize life in the country but tended rather, to feel anxiety as to how they were going to fit in. Thus the age at which migrants returned to their country of origin proved to be of key importance. The findings confirm those of structural accounts that suggest that structural factors, such as language, have an impact on agency. Other factors, such as the physical landscape, not mentioned by such accounts were also found to impact the adaptation process.

Building on such accounts, I offered, hopefully, a deeper and more grounded reading of the difficulties encountered by the returnees. Rather than just re-stating the somewhat obvious fact that they experience difficulties adapting to their country of origin, I showed how some factors proved to cause more difficulties than others. I categorized such factors into ‘higher and lower’ issues. Based on the responses received, I suggested that the frustration of some of the basic needs and values held by the returnees, to varying degrees, negatively impacted their adaptation process as well as their sense of well-being.

            Unlike structural accounts, I also looked into the positive side of the adaptation stories. The findings showed that in some cases, return experiences were better than expected! They also showed that they did not just surrender to the frustration they experienced but tried to reduce it. It was clear that access to adaptive venues helped render the adaptation process smoother and more pleasant. They helped returnees’ experience, to varying degrees, a sense of well-being and empowerment. As mentioned, this differential access can help us in understanding why despite the difficulties they encountered, the respondents did not always perceive their adaptation process as having been a difficult one. Social network theory could account for why some respondents felt that having access to this kind of social capital such as money or kinship ties eased their adaptation process. Transnationalism could account for why some respondents felt that having associative ties, such as a group of friends, particularly if it included some other returnees also eased their adaptation process. Adaptation was also rendered easier when their “lower-order” needs and mundane concerns were met. To name a few these included: getting a generator, central A.C or double-glazed windows to protect oneself from the unpleasant aspects of the post-war electricity cuts and noise pollution, the climate, the easiness of life, the subjective perceptions that life is not greener on the other side and that they are not ‘stuck’ in Lebanon and can re-emigrate if they wish to.

            Having shed light on the adaptation process of the participants, I tried to determine to what extent and why their returns were perceived as permanent or temporary. Transnationalism suggests that return migration can no longer be seen as the end of the migration cycle. Indeed, all the younger participants entertained serious thoughts of re-emigration. However, the responses of the relatively older group indicated that age can restrain the impulse to re-emigrate. They all expressed that at their comparatively advanced age they preferred to settle down rather than keep flitting around like ‘butterflies’. Thus return migration does represent the end of some people’s migration cycles.

            Surprisingly, the findings showed that, the latest unsettling political events including the tragic assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri did not induce any serious considerations for contemplating re-migration. Rather, they tended to reinforce their national sentiments and heighten their sense for belongingness. The findings showed that the need for self-actualization played an important role in encouraging such contemplation of re-emigration. Many of the younger respondents expressed that they felt the need to carry out career or education plans abroad. The need to be closer to social ties also encouraged contemplation of re-migration in at least one case. In this regard, while social network theory could account for the need to be closer to social ties, it could not account for the need for self-actualization.

            Indeed, as initially expected, no one theory could account for the diversity of the responses and justifications expressed by the respondents. Thus combining existing deductive theories with grounded theory proved to be useful to the understanding of return migration. Yet my inquiry is still limited in some senses and there is still further research that could be done to shed even more light on the complexity of return migration to Lebanon.

Though the history of Lebanese migration has not been outlined in this study, it has been outlined sufficiently by Khalaf’s (1987), Khater’s (2001) and Hourani’s and Shehadi’s studies (1992).  Some have touched on the extent of past return migration to Lebanon. Hashimoto, has done past research, on the extent of return migration to Lebanon between 1926 and 1933 (in Cohen 1997: 98). Labaki (1992) shows that out of the 400,000 Lebanese who left Lebanon during the first year of the war, 297,000 returned a year later. A study done by UNFPA shows that about 40,000 are said to have returned between 1992 and 1993 (UNICEF 1995).  However, I could not find any research that touched on the current extent of return migration. For reasons already mentioned in the methodology chapter, along with time constraint and a preference for a more in-depth subjective look at returnees’ experiences, I did not focus on the extent or magnitude of return migration. Further research that attempts to demystify the current magnitude of return migration to Lebanon is thus worth considering.

Khalaf shows how the brain drain of the nineteenth century transformed the Lebanese village of Bayt Shabab, literally ‘home of the youth’, into Bayt Al-Ajazah, literally ‘home of the aged’ (1987:22). No current research sheds light on the impact of return migration on the country itself such as on its demography, however. This impact lies outside the scope of this study and is worth considering.

Last but not least, this study only looks at the return migration of those who are officially qualified to receive Lebanese citizenship. It does not tap into the return and adaptation experiences of those whose mothers only are Lebanese and who are thus not officially Lebanese, though they may be Lebanese in heart. Further research could do so. After all, home should be where the heart is.                                                                                                                                                                               


 Informed Consent Form for Interviewees

 Research Project Title: Lebanese Returnees: Reasons for Return, Adaptation and Re-emigration.
Researcher:  Nathalie Malhamé                       
Under the supervision of Dr. Ray Jureidini, SBS department, American University of Beirut

This consent form should inform you of nature research and of what your participation will involve.  If you desire further information, you should feel free to ask.  Please take the time to read and understand this carefully.

I, _______________________________, understand that Nathalie Malhamé as a graduate sociology student at the American University of Beirut is conducting a study on Lebanese return migration and on the adaptation process of Lebanese returnees to their country of origin. 

I willingly and voluntarily accept to participate in an interview that will last around one hour for no financial remunerate.  I understand that with my approval the interview may be tape-recorded and later transcribed. I understand that I am not forced to answer any questions I don’t want to, and that at any time I have the right ask for the tape-recorder to be switched off and still be able to continue with the interview if I want to. I am aware that the audio-tapes and transcripts will only be used by the research team.  Nobody else will have access to them. The audio-tapes and transcripts will not have my name or any other identifying information on them.  A research code number or pseudonym will be used instead. The completed interview transcriptions and audiotapes will be stored in a secure, locked cabinet for a period of one year after which they will be destroyed. 

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 Any queries that you may have about this research inquiry can be directed either to Nathalie Malhamé, the researcher (03645535, or to her research supervisor, Dr. Ray Jureidini (

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has completed the Human Participants Protection Education for Research Teams online course, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), on 06/08/2005.

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 National Institutes of Health
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