Canada is urging its citizens to leave Lebanon amid concerns about escalating danger as fighting intensifies along the country’s border with Israel in the wake of the war between Israel and Hamas.
And anxiety about how far the fighting could escalate and recent warnings from Ottawa that it may not be able to evacuate Canadians have many Lebanese Canadians in Toronto and Beirut on edge.
Despite the warnings, Canadian citizen Hanan Haddad says she will stay put for now, since her husband is not Canadian. Haddad’s 16-year-old son lives with her in Lebanon and her two older children live in Canada.
“I don’t think he’s willing to leave it behind,” said Haddad, who has lived in Beirut for 25 years. “My children and I are Canadian, but my husband is not.
There are 17,750 Canadians in Lebanon who have registered with Global Affairs Canada, the department said in a statement on Oct. 31.
His message to the citizens of that country: “Get out while you can.”
Global Affairs said the situation in Lebanon is “deteriorating” and that this is encouraging residents to leave by commercial means, as assisted departures are “complex and rare.”
“The best time to leave a country is before a crisis, if possible,” he said.
Spouses and dependent children who are not Canadian citizens will need a visa or electronic travel authorization, he said. Haddad’s husband is in the process of obtaining a new passport and visa for Canada, she said.
Global Affairs did not respond to an additional question from CBC Toronto about whether repatriation efforts would be made if the need arose. In a statement, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said the visa application center remains open in Beirut.
“We are increasing our capacity in the region to expedite applications,” he said.
But another obstacle for Haddad’s family is the cost of flights, he said.
Flights to Toronto cost about $1,000 each.
That, coupled with news of the destruction in Gaza, has Haddad increasingly worried, he said.
“We live day to day because things are changing drastically. Will war come today or tomorrow?” she said.
Fewer departures from Lebanon compared to 2006
Fighting between Israeli forces and Hezbollah militants along Israel’s border with Lebanon has increased in the weeks since Hamas attacked southern Israel on October 7, killing more than 1,400 people.
Gaza’s Health Ministry says 8,500 people have died as of this week, including nearly 3,500 children.
Jens Hanssen, a professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Toronto, said Lebanon is already “on its knees” due to the ongoing financial crisis and the fallout from the 2020 port explosion.
“The thing about Lebanon is that there is only one way out, and that is Beirut airport… or by boat to Cyprus,” he said. Syria was previously available as an exit route during the 2006 war with Israel, which saw a large evacuation of more than 15,000 Canadian citizens, but that is no longer the case, Hanssen said.
The current situation is also different from 2006 because that war was a surprise, Hanssen said.
“There was no time to plan. We went from no war to evacuation in a matter of days. Now, there is still hope that Hezbollah and Israel will not open a second front on the Lebanese-Israeli border,” he said.
But the Canadian embassy and other Western governments are cautious about recommending citizens leave, he said.
“All the embassies are much more nervous now than ever,” he said.
The Lebanese diaspora is also feeling the anxiety in Toronto, said resident Taha Shanouha.
For Shanouha, it has been almost a month of recurring nightmares.
“I woke up in the middle of the night because I dreamed that the building in front of my house had been bombed,” he said.
The 28-year-old, who moved from his Beirut home to Toronto last August, said he worries about his family and friends back home.
Shanouha, who came to Canada to work as a photographer, said the 2006 war with Israel showed him that “you never know when things can happen at any sudden moment.”
And it’s not just about that war: Shanouha said the Lebanese people have been through many tragedies, including an economic crisis, the 2020 Beirut port explosion and unrest over the collapse of their currency.
“I am very worried because Beirut is also a very dense, narrow and populated city. If bombs fall… it will be very bad,” he said.
‘Guilt’ for leaving Lebanon behind
Toronto resident Mona Ahmad said she was relieved when her parents returned to Canada from Beirut this week. Ahmad was born in Lebanon and her family immigrated to Canada when she was a child.
SEE | What is happening on the border between Israel and Lebanon?
When they arrived in Toronto, Ahmad said he felt immediate relief. “But then the guilt sets in and you realize that safety is a privilege not granted to everyone,” he said.
His family in Lebanon, who are Canadian citizens, are not “in rush mode” yet, he said.
“They have it in the back of their minds. People have been through wars and there comes a time when nothing, no conflict, will keep you from your homeland,” he said.