The economic crisis Lebanon is going through has not only severely affected the lives of people in the country but also significantly impacted Lebanese students abroad.
Countless Lebanese students in foreign universities largely rely on their families back home to send them money so they can go on with their lives and continue their education.
However, as is now widely known in Lebanon, this vital stream of transfers has been restricted by the country’s financial collapse.
As is the case with any humanitarian cause, many people, in Lebanon and abroad, have stepped up for these struggling students and joined them in calling for their rights.
But, again, as is the case with other causes, not all of those helpers are genuine philanthropists or altruistic activists.
In fact, some self-proclaimed activists are using the student cause as a cover to generate personal profit.
We spoke with Domenique Karkach, Founder of the International Union of Lebanese Youth (IULY), about such suspicious individuals taking advantage of students and their families.
“Some people are coming and holding students by the hand that hurts them; the student does not want to stop his or her education,” Karkach said.
A Shady Donation Campaign
As Karkach pointed out, one’s personal information can be used and abused in countless ways by people with malicious intent.
One example of this targeted Lebanese students happened in Italy a few months ago.
The scheme in question started when a member of an unofficial gathering of families of Lebanese students abroad asked their daughter in Italy to gather information about Lebanese students in Italy.
The person “would gather information from people on the pretext of being in contact with the Italian Foreign Ministry and a European organization in Lebanon to give donations to the students,” Karkach explained.
“The student doesn’t know the value of this information, doesn’t know how important this information is.”
After the information-gathering scheme took off, the IULY went to work investigating it, eventually reaching a person said to be heading the operation – a journalist who works in Tripoli and who is said to be coordinating with a European organization in Lebanon.
They finally reached the journalist, “M.O.”
“When we spoke with her… she wasn’t very comfortable. When we asked for the organization’s name, she gave us a name that we searched for and doesn’t exist.” Karkach noted that the name she gave resembles that of a Russian company.
After this encounter, the IULY, which has 3 organizations in Italy, contacted the Italian Foreign Ministry, which then denied having any connection to such a campaign.
The Union went on to warn the students about the campaign, and the matter was over. Nevertheless, student information had already been gathered.
In a similar incident, a self-proclaimed professor from the United Kingdom, K.H., initiated contact with families of Lebanese students abroad.
He would get in touch with families and present himself as a “capable” individual, asking them to fill forms with their children’s personal information (within a time limit of a few hours) and pledging to secure donations for them from the United Kingdom, France, and Arab princes.
Later, a person from K.H.’s team announced that $70,000 in donations had been accumulated for the campaign, but the eager families had yet to see any of it.
When people began to ask about the donations and what was taking so long for them to be disbursed, K.H. threatened them with removing their son’s or daughter’s name from “the list” of donations.
After the IULY looked up information about the professor and his career, they found no articles written by him or any information that would allow them to trust his claim to professorship, let alone his campaign.
To add to that, K.H. had claimed that he owned schools and universities, but these establishments were tracked and revealed by the IULY to have fake addresses — they do not exist.
What the IULY did find linked to his name were many companies that had opened and closed, with various operational periods, ranging from months to a year.
“During a certain period, we were holding protests abroad… He went to the media and illuded people that he was behind the protests in France, so we had to clarify,” Karkach said.
“Eventually, when we clarified this ploy that he had created, regarding France, people lost their trust in him completely, and understood what was happening,” he added.
Although the scheme was exposed, Karkach noted, the damage might have already been done, as K.H. had already collected information from people, so he might have used it to collect money in their names.
Behind the Schemes
Incidents like these, Karkach pointed out, can have a detrimental impact on the entire cause of Lebanese students abroad, who continue to struggle to pursue their education while their families in Lebanon suffer under the economic meltdown.
So, how can these students and their families avoid these shady donation campaigns and protect their personal information from potential exploiters?
“Any honest campaign that is taking place, we can verify it. We are not against any people who would like to help, but we are also against anyone who wants to exploit students.”
Addressing students, he added: “Don’t be cheated by these advertisements; your information is very, very valuable. If you hear about something like this, resort to the Union and their social media pages.”
“Any movement, offer, or aid of this kind, we can verify its credibility through our contacts with our established presence on the ground.”
The Union had warned students and parents in a recent statement not to provide any information that may be used to make money by fake associations and people whose real objectives are unclear.