Lebanese father sets himself on fire over unpaid school fees

BEIRUT: A Lebanese man set himself on fire in a schoolyard in Bkeftine in northern Lebanon after a dispute over unpaid tuition fees. 

George Zureik doused himself in gasoline and set himself alight following a meeting on Thursday with administrators at his daughter’s private school. The father of two died before he could be taken to hospital.

Zureik is believed to have asked the school for documents to transfer his daughter to a semi-free public institution, but was refused because of outstanding tuition fees.

He had previously transferred his other daughter from the same school to a public facility. 

Zureik’s death sparked angry responses on social media with many comments critical of high school fees and Lebanon’s worsening economic situation.
 
MPs from North Lebanon joined the online protests, describing Zureik as “a martyr of taxes and the high cost of living.”

MP Sami Gemayel said Zureik was “a martyr to irresponsibility and lack of accountability,” while MP Michel Moawad said: “His suicide is an unprecedented Lebanese tragedy that reflects the worsening economic and social conditions in the country.” 

The school administration denied responsibility for the incident and said in a statement that “due to the deceased father’s economic situation, the school had shown sympathy since his two children enrolled in 2014/2015 and exempted him from paying fees except for transportation, stationary and extracurricular activities.”

However, Lebanon’s Ministry of Education has announced an investigation into the circumstances of the incident. 

Education Minister Akram Shahib said that public schools in the country this year have accepted thousands of students who were transferred from private schools because of the tough economic conditions.
 
The minister said he will ensure Zureik’s children continue their education and will provide them with the necessary scholarships.
 
“I hope that this painful incident will be an incentive for the government to make improving the difficult economic and living conditions a priority,” he said. 

Economist Louis Hobeika described the incident as “a sad situation.”

“The Ministry of Labor has estimated the unemployment rate in Lebanon at 25 percent — and it might be higher,” he said.

“We have noticed a fall in the number of parents who can pay university tuition fees, prompting students to work at restaurants and other places. But the problem with schools is that parents are the only ones who can pay for their children’s tuition.”

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