vendredi 28 juillet 2006

All on board ! By Najla Chahda

All on board ! Announcing today is the last cruise evacuation for the European and American visitors of Lebanese descent. At an average of 10,000 per day, they rushed into the ports carrying the little they can and sending farewells to their families left behind because they are only Lebanese but promising Lebanon they will be back. In hundreds, we saw them today at the portal of the Canadian Embassy in Jal el Dib, holding pack of papers and waiting their turn. They were standing tight to each other, forming a long long queue and pushing the people in front as if they are afraid of loosing their place on the boat. The gate was opened enough to allow one person at a time. Guards were all around checking papers and entering them to the premises of the Embassy. Who can blame them. They have the right to be afraid, to choose life and escape fear and death if it is offered.

As wealthy nations dispatched their final ships to evacuate citizens in Lebanon on the 17th day of relentless Israeli bombardments, less fortunate authorities across Asia are struggling to reach their nationals stranded in the war-torn country.

In thousands, migrants from Asia and Africa (Srilanka, Philippines, Ethiopia, Sudanese, etc…..) await at their Embassies for help. Some were sleeping for a week at the doors. Chaos is prevailing at the Embassies, within their communities, within themselves. Despite their scarce potentials, governments especially the Srilankan and Philippines in collaboration with and assistance of humanitarian organizations such as caritas are working to stream them out of Lebanon through Syria. More than 5000 have left. Many more are frightened and wish to leave. There are in Lebanon around 80,000 Srilankans, 30,000 Philippines, 29000 Ethiopians and 10,000 other nationalities. Either they were left behind by their employers, or employers could not take them because they don’t have an European or American passport, others moved with their employers to the mountains of Lebanon, others are stuck under fire, etc….. All scenarios are possible.

Some Asian workers have decided that enduring Israeli bombardment is less of a torment than losing their jobs and returning to a life of poverty and hunger at home.

"Of course I am scared, but leaving is a luxury. Going back to Sri Lanka is a greater risk for our lives. The war here is much better than dying from hunger at home," said Sri Lankan domestic worker Shampa.

"What will I do in the Philippines?" cried Filipina Cynthia Madrigal. "I cannot leave. I am the only bread-winner for my mother, two young children and two nieces," she said, sitting on the balcony of a mountain house to which she fled with her employers in northern Lebanon away from the Israeli strikes. (Daily Star, Vol 5 Num 770, 27/07/2006)

But the Israeli strikes are not distinguishing between military targets and civilians even foreigners. They don’t stop you and ask for your papers to make sure you have nothing to do with whom they are fighting. Yesterday a small motorcycle driver was directly hit by an apache helicopter in the south of Lebanon. It turned out that he is a Nigerian running for his life. Adding to the old list of martyrs in the migrants communities for a war they have nothing to do with. How many others of migrants died, or trapped under wreckage. In war you only count what you can see and measure, though you can estimate.

The Ministry of Health announced today there are around 600 dead and 1850 injured. 352 are known of identity, against 58 unable to be identified due to complete disfigurement or having no ID with them. It is estimated that 200 are lost and unknown fate maybe trapped underground.

Today in the news, they reported that two elderly in their 80th were trapped under wreckage for several days. They were miraculously alive. Maybe there are others elsewhere alive for the moment but no rescue can reach them. On the seconds, apaches and F16 planes are striking. Yesterday’s decision of the Ministry of defense concluded to increase airstrikes and if not avoid at least reduce land confrontation.

While they relentlessly bombed many areas in the south and Bekaa, others in the north of Lebanon occupied only by Christians but welcomed displaced families from the south and Beirut are experiencing since early this week fake maneuvers by apaches and F16 planes and intensive raids, flying right on top of houses and spreading terror and insecurity feeling among villages. What they are looking for, what they plan to do, we are unarmed and hopeless. Our only arm is the Bible or the Coran. And we pray please God do not forsaken us all, save Lebanon. Similar prayers for survival are heard in the Shelters of Caritas made by migrants. Finally our prayers are heard, said a group of Srilankan when our social workers told them they will leave home today. Alleluia.

How many days, weeks, or months will we wait till our cries for cease fire are heard? We have an epidemic crisis. People in the south villages especially Ain Ebel are poisoned from drinking unhealthy and desterilized water. Only yesterday late in the night, residents of Ain Ebel, Aytaroun, Bent Jbeil (located all at the borders with Israel and who were under fire since 12th of July) were able to escape the nightmare. Children of cancer are finding difficulties to get their treatment. Necessary medical supplies won’t last for a month. A 12 years old girl from Bekaa, spent 3 days without treatment and in jeopardy on the road with her family to get to Beirut to the medical children center for cancer. Her parent couldn’t find a car and a driver to transport them. 35% of the injured are children, 100% of children won’t join their schools this year, 70% had their home destroyed. 60,000 displaced persons are in one city (example of Sayda). Around 150,000 displaced are sheltered in schools. The total of displaced in Lebanon is now almost 1,000,000, approximately the 1/3 of Lebanon’s population. Villages completely destroyed. Numbers and numbers……we are tired of counting.

And we keep praying and calling for mercy. Their answer is same, only God with us. Our greatest fear, that once all westerners (Canadians, Americans, Australians, French) leave, the real war starts and we face our doom.

Najla Chahda
Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center