Wednesday, August 09, 2006
LEBANON'S MIGRANT WORKERS DESPERATE TO GET OUT
About 200,000 Bangladeshi, Ethiopian, Filipino, Nepali and Sri Lankan workers are still thought to be in Lebanon. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) says it expects to move at least 750 people a day over the next five days unless the security situation deteriorates further. The organisation says it has evacuated more than 4,000 foreign nationals from Beirut since 20 July.
With little sign of the conflict in Lebanon ending soon, IOM has seen increasing numbers of migrants seeking evacuation assistance every day.
"I thought it would end but it never did," Chamina Nroshini, a Sri Lankan who has worked for two years in Lebanon as a house maid for $100 a month told Reuters Alert.
At least half of those being helped are escaping without their papers or salaries from employers who don't want to let them go. Many more are still trying to get away.
Yesterday, in its largest convoy to date, 943 Ethiopians, Sri Lankans, Nepalese and Filipinos were evacuated by IOM to Syria. Today, a further 775 Filipinos, Sri Lankans, Cameroonians and Vietnamese are being assisted. More than 8,000 migrants without papers and/or means will have been helped by IOM to escape the conflict in Lebanonby the end of Friday. IOM is also providing food, shelter, medical and return assistance to their home countries.
"We have seen significant increase in the numbers of migrants turning up at embassies in the past few days wanting to be evacuated. Yesterday, we were expecting to evacuate 250 Ethiopians and had made plans accordingly, but more than 600 people turned up. We managed to evacuate 409 Ethiopians in the end," said Vincent Houver, IOM's evacuation coordinator in Lebanon.
"With such large numbers of people being helped on a daily basis, we expect our funds to run out very soon," added Houver. "We need additional funds not only to help the thousands who can still reach Beirut, but also people in the south who are as yet, inaccessible."
"We need at least another $15 million to help another 10,000," IOM's Jean Philippe Chauzy told Reuters. "As long as bombing continues, people will want to leave."
Meanwhile, operations are becoming increasingly difficult. With roads into Beirut and other strategic infrastructure north of the capital being regularly bombed, IOM is being forced to adjust its evacuation routes every day. The security situation is also making it harder to find transport providers.
Many of the evacuees are low paid, female domestic workers, some of whom have no travel documents and very little money, according to Chauzy.
Sri Lankan ambassdor Amanul Farouque said at least three immigrant workers had arrived at his embassy with broken legs having tried to climb from balconies. "Sometimes the employers locked them up. They tried to escape using sheets from the window," he said.
A bomb hit the house where Kay Irangali had worked as a maid in the southern city of Sidon. "The home owner said: 'You go to Sri Lanka, we're going to America,'" she said.
For further information, please contact:
Jean Philippe Chauzy in Beirut
Tel: + 41 79 285 4366
Tel: + 41 22 717 9486
Mobile: + 41 79 217 3374
The following article comes from The Age (Australia).
Lebanon's domestic workers clamour to escape
Ms Kalyani, 40, and two equally terrified fellow maids were desperate to return to their native Sri Lanka but their employer withheld their passports and between $US500 and $US800 in back wages.
He paid an agency $US1000 to bring each of them to Lebanon, and insisted that war or no war the maids should honour their contracts.
Finally, a week ago, the women had had enough. A 2.30am escape bid was aborted when Israel started bombing again.
Two days later they were given their passports, but not their back wages, and they paid $US400 for a taxi to Beirut.
There they joined tens of thousands of other domestic workers from Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Bangladesh and Ethiopia who are clamouring to flee the war zone, but who lack the resources and often the documents to escape. Two Filipinos are known to have died so far, and many other expatriate workers are missing.
On Monday, after five days sleeping rough outside the Sri Lankan embassy, Ms Kalyani and her friends were able to board buses organised by the United Nations International Organisation for Migrants.
"I'm happy to go now, but I'm not happy about the money," said Chandrawati Makura Malmaduwa, 45. "Our madam was all right, but the master had a bad heart. It hurts to work so hard and not get paid for it."
The whole block around Sri Lanka's embassy has become a temporary refugee camp with thousands of women sleeping in the open or bedding down in basements at the embassy and neighbouring buildings.
Despite their ordeal, most seem to be in remarkably good spirits, chatting and laughing as they share food and water, a few of the youngest even playing tag among their sleeping elders. Others hug and weep as names are called out for places on buses, separating friends who had met in Lebanon and who might never meet again.
Dayalatee Kulasiri, 60, said she had been in Lebanon for 23 years without a visit home.
"I don't want to go back," she said. "There's no money there and I have no children there. I never got married. If they would stop bombing I'd like Lebanon very much."
So far the UN has repatriated more than 5700 foreign domestic workers, taking them by bus to Syria, then flying them home in chartered planes from Damascus.
"The technical term we used for them is 'stranded migrants in distress'," UN official Jean-Philippe Chauzy said.
"You have people like this the world over, people who have been left out on a limb, but this is high profile, there's lots of media around, so this time there's enough money to address it. The European Union has given €11 million ($A18.5 million)."
Most well-off Lebanese families like to have at least one foreign servant, and the market is supplied by agencies who have brought in about 80,000 Sri Lankans, 30,000 Filipinos, 10,000 Bengalis and a large but unknown number of Ethiopians. For these women — virtually all are female — repatriation will be a relief but not a blessing.
"The whole idea of being in Lebanon for these women is to make money," Mr Chauzy said. "They are earning $US150 or $US200 a month maximum and they are sending back more than half of that salary to their homes. When that source of income evaporates, that's also going to cause problems for their country of origin."
Sri Lankan ambassador Farouque Amanul said: "The majority are owed money but they don't care about the money now. They just want to go home.
"Some Lebanese people are very understanding, though. They drive their maids here to help them to leave."