Yale students in Beirut remain safe

The seven Yale students studying in Beirut, Lebanon are all safe and most are in the process of being evacuated through Cyprus, according to Yale officials and e-mails from the students.


Yale officials have also been in touch with students studying in Israel, and an official in the Office of the Secretary said they are not aware of any students studying in Haifa or northern Israel, the areas being hit by Hezbollah rockets. Yale is not recommending that students leave Israel but has urged them to be aware of the political situation and register with their nation’s embassy.


Four students studying in Beirut — Sam Heller ’08, Eyad Houssami ’07, Ranin Kazemi GRD ’11 and Diana Schawlowski ’08 — were moved to a hotel in Dbayeh, north of Beirut and close to the sea, from where they will likely be evacuated to Cyprus by U.S. State Department helicopters. Valeria Lopez-Fadul ’08 has already been evacuated by the Italian Embassy. One Lebanese graduate student, Bilal Orfali GRD ’09, will remain in the country, as he works as a coordinator for the American University in Beirut’s summer language program and has family there.


Orfali said in an e-mail that he is safe in the mountains outside Beirut and has been trying to check on the other Yale students. Some of the students were studying at AUB after completing Intermediate Arabic at Yale, a course for which Orfali was a teaching fellow. AUB’s president announced Sunday that the university has suspended its summer classes.


One other graduate student, David Scales MED ’09 GRD ’09, is also seeking a way out of the country but declined to be moved to the Dbayeh hotel. Scales said in an e-mail that he is currently living in the Hamra neighborhood, an upscale neighborhood where the Lebanese prime minister Fouad Siniora resides. Scales said he feels safe in Hamra, but he said the nearby bombings and occasional loss of electricity and phone service can be nerve-wracking. The Beirut port and lighthouse, both struck by Israeli bombers, are 5 km and 1 km, respectively, from his apartment.


“I still have hot water and usually electricity,” Scales said. “But when the electricity goes out and the phones do, too, it is a very isolating feeling.”


Most foreigners in Beirut are leaving as Israel has launched a bombing campaign across Lebanon in retaliation against the militant group Hezbollah. The group has been launching rockets from southern Lebanon into northern Israel, hitting as deeply as the port city of Haifa. The international airport in Beirut has been shut, and the highways leading into Syria are severely damaged, according to the U.S. State Department, which has issued a travel warning for the entire country.


Houssami said in an e-mail that the hotel where four of the Yalies are staying is luxurious and that the students are accompanied by private security guards. Although he said that he feels “surreal” and “shameful” to be in the hotel while family members and friends remain in Beirut, he said he is grateful that the Yale administration was responsive and generous in helping the students, including a German citizen, evacuate securely to Cyprus.


Donald Filer, Yale’s associate secretary and director of international affairs, said the evacuations are being coordinated by Medex, a service that provides emergency assistance for students traveling abroad. Filer said this is the first situation he knew in which students needed to be evacuated from a war zone — usually Medex helps with illnesses or injuries — and he stressed that all students traveling abroad need to register with Medex and their local embassy.


Filer also credited the evacuation of the Yale students to a database compiled by the Secretary’s Office during the spring, when students planning to travel abroad were asked to provide the University with detailed registry information regarding their plans.


“We like to think that particularly after seeing this experience, students will see that there is a great advantage to them in registering,” Filer said.


The bombing has also some disrupted some students’ plans to study in the region this fall. Lee Hiromoto ’06 received a scholarship from Rotary International to study Hebrew language and political science in Jerusalem, but was informed on Monday that Rotary has placed a travel ban on Israel. Two Yale students also received Fulbright scholarships to study in Syria and are unsure whether they will be similarly restricted.


“It’s possible that Syria could get drawn into this, in which case my funding would most likely be revoked by the state department,” Nachy Kanfer ’06, one of the Fulbright scholars, said in an e-mail from the West Bank, where he is currently working for a nonprofit political advocacy group specializing in environmental research.


Filer said Yale regularly updates its list of countries where undergraduates may not travel on University funds. He said it is possible that more undergraduates intending to study in the Mideast may have their plans disrupted when that list is updated later this summer. Lebanon’s border regions are already on the list.

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