Immediately after the Israeli attacks on Lebanon, Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center (CLMC) has begun an Emergency Operation to protect and care for the many migrant workers in need of assistance in the country.
Release of detained migrants and shelter:
When the fighting broke out, following the Migrant Center’s intervention, all detained migrants were released (for one month) from the Retention Center for Foreign Persons in Adlieh, the Central Prison of Roumieh, the prison of Tripoli in the North, Tyre’s prison in the South and the prison of Zahleh in the Bekaa Valley. Some of the detainees were taken to a shelter opened by CLMC, while others were released on their own recognizance. The shelter is accommodating women migrant workers till their repatriation to their respective homelands. The women are being cared for by the Migrants Center’s medico-social staff that is ensuring a presence with them round the clock, 24/7. The rationale behind targeting mainly women is that men having worked in different work places have their connections, while basically women have always worked confined inside the houses, so they were more vulnerable, strangers alone in a foreign country under attack, with no one to turn to. Now with news spreading that the return ticket is “free of charge”, there are different scenarios by which these migrants are getting to know of CLMC shelter services. Many employers in hit areas, meaning South, Greater Beirut and its suburbs, are sending their Migrant Workers, telling them to refer to their Embassy and get repatriated. In other cases, migrant workers in “safe” areas are fleeing their employers’ homes and addressing their relevant Embassy requesting the return to their country. The number of persons lodged in the Migrant Center’s shelters is about 200-250 per day.
CLMC has started coordinating and collaborating closely with the Sri Lankan Embassy for the evacuation of some 5,000 Sri Lankan nationals from Beirut to Damascus, and onward home. Sri Lankan government has plans to charter an airplane to Damascus to fly the displaced expatriates to their home country.
CLMC continues to make arrangements with the Sri Lankan Embassy for the safe evacuation. The Migrant Center’s Social workers and Lawyers create a file on each migrant arriving; passport photos are taken for those requiring an Emergency Certificate (EC), and help each individual to fill-in the Embassy form. Upon their completion, a CLMC social worker takes all duly filled-in forms to the Embassy, which is issuing Laissez-passer for travel. In addition, CLMC is working closely with the Lebanese General Security (GS) and establishing a list of those departing, in order to facilitate their repatriation by getting from the GS a clearance of the ECs issued by the Embassy, thus speeding up the process.
Additionally, a record of evacuees (as much as possible) and their home addresses is being drawn up. This list is communicated to Caritas Sri Lanka (SEDEC), with whom Caritas Migrant Center is coordinating strongly. SEDEC staff will be meeting the group of returnees at the airport in Colombo. Furthermore, accommodations and transportation will be provided for those migrants who will need to travel beyond Colombo to their respective homes.
Further to a request from the Sri Lankan Embassy, the Migrant Center started coordinating buses for transportation and food parcels for the journey from Beirut to the capital of Syria of the first group. Although initially Caritas raised food and bus funds for the trip, the International Organization of Migration (IOM) has offered to take charge of the transportation of this first group. Meanwhile, CLMC provided $50 to each Sri Lankan individual from the first group making the trip, so not to return empty handed as the vast majority was detained and did not have any savings.
An initial group of 226 Sri Lankans has already left on July 20th. Two CLMC staff members escorted them to the borders, and made the required procedures before the GS to facilitate their passage into Syria (i.e. filling-in the exit cards, verifying the concordance between exit cards and respective passport or EC with the GS agents in order to get the exit stamp, etc). After the coordination done between CLMC and Terre des Hommes-Syria, the latter has sent staff to the Lebanese-Syrian border to welcome the returnees and accompany them to the shelters.
Our offices here, have established contact with Caritas Syria, and negotiated to arrange one-night’s food and accommodations for this first group in Damascus, in a Lazarist priests Monastery, and a Daughters of Charity Convent.
Wednesday July 26th, some 600 individuals (300 Sri Lankans and 300 Ethiopians) left for Syria in the morning. They were received and looked after by Terres des Hommes-Syria. After a one-night stay at the Terre des Hommes shelter in Tartouss, that was arranged for by CLMC, this group boarded the plane today respectively to Sri Lanka and Ethiopia.
Yesterday as well, at noon, round 500 Sri Lankan persons embarked on board of an Indian boat. CLMC has made necessary arrangements: five staff members including the CLMC Director Mrs. Chahda were present at the Embassy and organized the distribution of evacuees according to pre-established lists on different buses and ensured their transport till the port in Beirut in the company of two CLMC staff members. Moreover, both staff members have made the necessary procedures before the GS to facilitate their travel.
Today, Thursday July 27th, through the facilitation provided by CLMC, another group of 300 Sri Lankan will be leaving to Tartouss, where they will be received and housed for one night in the Terre des Hommes-Syria shelter, to depart to their homeland on the following day. An additional 300-person group of Sri Lankans is expected to depart for Syria on Friday 28th as well.
CLMC is working in close collaboration with IOM.