Among the various activities Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center (CLMC) launched for within the Emergency Response to the war, are the Caritas repatriation initiatives for migrant’s communities that began on the 20th of July, when the first group of 226 Sri Lankan migrants crossed the borders with Syria and headed back home via Damascus airport. No later than Wednesday July 26th and Thursday 27th, the second and third groups of respectively 600 persons (300 Sri Lankans and 300 Ethiopians) and 300 Sri Lankans joined their precedent expatriates. In parallel on the 26th, at noon, around 500 Sri Lankan persons embarked on board of an Indian boat. An additional number of 300 Sri Lankans are departing today, Friday 28th, for Syria.
There are more than 5000 Sri Lankans and 2000 Ethiopians waiting at the embassies for repatriation. Numbers are mounting each day. The more people leave, the more others come.
Early after the beginning of this war, CLMC has responded to this emergency by offering shelter, humanitarian aid, and repatriation assistance to Migrants and Refugees. The General Security released detained migrants from prisons. Consequently, 200 women were entrusted to CLMC that transferred them later to shelters. The number of persons lodged in the Migrant Center’s shelters is about 200-250 per day. In addition, the Center received daily around 50 to 100 persons. This brought the 55 staffs of CLMC in constant alert and ready to answer to their needs. Around 20 volunteers joined them, and tasks were organized and distributed. The staffs saw also some members from the Board Committee of CLMC alongside with them, delivering a hand of help. Sounds of bombs and airstrikes from a distance were heard; we moved on though to assist beneficiaries waiting at our doors.
Preparing for the departure of evacuees consisted of several steps and stages. Filling social forms and depicting the vulnerable cases at CLMC was the first step. Embassy forms were secondly filled by beneficiaries in the company of the Center’s lawyers and a Sri Lankan counselor. Third, filled-in forms were transferred to the Embassy to issue Laissez-passer for those lacking for their passports. Next, the administrative procedures were done at the General Security (GS) HQ, to get a clearance for the Laissez-passer. Renting buses and organizing trips was done in parallel while contacting Terre des Hommes-Syria to arrange for accommodation and informing Caritas Sri Lanka SEDEC of the date and time of returnees’ arrivals to receive back home.
At all times, there were two of CLMC staff members escorting the group to the Lebanese borders. While IOM awaited them at Lebanon-Syria border, the Center’s staffs were organizing the stages of getting on buses at the Embassy, checking the lists and all papers. At the Border, and to our fortune, one of the GS officers was a former attaché to the Detention Center of Foreign Persons in Adlieh and thus recognized our staff. This factor helped our staff to accelerate procedures of crossing. A procedure that would have required 8 hours to be concluded lasted for merely 3 hours. The requisite procedures before the GS to facilitate their passage into Syria were: filling-in the exit cards, verifying the concordance between exit cards and respective passport or Laissez-passer with the GS agents in order to get the exit stamp, etc. A team from Terre des hommes-Syria awaited them on the other side. The groups stayed an average of one night in the shelter in Syria before heading the next day to Damascus airport escorted by both CLMC and Terre des Hommes staffs. Throughout the journey, food parcels were offered by the Migrant Center. For the first group making the trip, CLMC provided $50 to each individual so not to return empty handed, as the vast majority was detained and did not have any savings.
In order for 500 Sri Lankan persons to board on an Indian boat, CLMC made the necessary arrangements: five staff members including the 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 accompanied by two staff members. In a previous stage, Caritas staff members took charge of all necessary procedures before the GS to facilitate their travel.