- Around 1.5 lakh Bangladeshis are working in Lebanon, nearly 30,000 of them are undocumented
- 7,745 registered for repatriation in last February-March, 1,500 returned home amid Covid-19
- Haunted by the Beirut blast horrors, now most workers opt for immediate repatriation
- Bangladesh Embassy in Beirutis is not taking new repatriation appeal due to international flight crisis
- The embassy says it is trying to calm the tension among Bangladeshis, while a tense situation still prevails there
There have been plenty of financial miseries going around in Lebanon for last one year, which got intensified amid the coronavirus pandemic, leaving thousands of Bangladeshi expatriates jobless in the West Asian country.
The Bangladesh Embassy in Beirut received 7,745 repatriation appeals alone in last February-March period.
The latest explosion in Lebanese capital hammered the final nail in the coffin as seemingly all Bangladeshi workers now want to leave the country as soon as possible.
"We the distressed Bangladeshi migrants are now panicked twice as much after the blast. We appeal to the Bangladesh Embassy to send us back home immediately," said Rana Ahmed, a Bangladeshi in Lebanon.
On Tuesday, four Bangladeshis were killed while another 100 Bangladeshis including 21 Navy men sustained injuries in the horrific explosion at a warehouse in the port of Beirut.
Beirut-based Bangladeshi journalist Mohsin Mridha said three areas where 20,000-25,000 Bangladeshi expatriates were living got devastated in the blast.
"The migrants are panicked more since they had already been struggling with food and accommodation costs for last couple of months. Still, the situation is not normal here," he added.
He said the explosion rocked buildings within two kilometres blast radius and many Bangladeshi migrant workers are now doing the repairs.
According to an unofficial estimate, around 1.5 lakh Bangladeshis expatriates work in Lebanon and most of them are cleaners and housemaids.
Bangladesh Ambassador in Beirut Major General Md Jahangir Al Mustahidur Rahman in a video message Wednesday said a tense situation was prevailing in Lebanon.
He said, "People, including the Bangladeshi community, are in a state of panic. We are trying to calm the situation by using social media and in some other ways."
Bangladeshi workers' distress calls flood Facebook group
Bangladeshi workers in Lebanon run a Facebook group "Lebanon Prabasi". Distress calls from the migrants have swamped the group wall.
Abid Hassan Sujon, who was a cleaner in a Beirut bar, said he lost his job six months ago and has been struggling to manage food and accommodation since then.
"Now, my family in Bangladesh is sending me money for my survival here,"
The expat said he tried to get registered with the Bangladesh Embassy in Beirut for repatriation, a process for undocumented migrants to return home, but failed.
Sujon is one of around 30,000 undocumented Bangladeshi migrants currently living in Lebanon. Like Sujon, both documented and undocumented workers are continuously knocking the door of Bangladesh Embassy as the country slides into deeper economic crisis.
Among the 7,745 Bangladeshi nationals applied for repatriation in February-March, the embassy sent 1,500 workers home via special flights.
First Secretary of Bangladesh Embassy in Beirut Abdullah Al Mamun said they have stopped the registration as they could not send back all the previously registered workers due to an unavailability of flights.
"The pandemic has jeopardised repatriation arrangements," he said.
Lebanon economy was suffering even before the pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic did not spark the beginning of a financial crisis to Lebanese economy. In fact, the country has been sliding deeper into trouble since October last year.
The economy started to buckle under the weight of decades of unfettered corruption, unsustainable fiscal policies, the war next door in Syria, and a slump in vital remittances from abroad, reported Qatar-based Al Jazeera.
According to the report, tens of thousands of Lebanese have since lost their jobs while hundreds of businesses have closed – and that was before a nationwide Covid-19 lockdown delivered yet another crippling blow to an economy already on life support.
Slowing capital inflow saw protesters taking to the streets in large groups.They demanded an end to corruption, accusing leaders of using their positions to enrich themselves for decades through favourable deals and kickbacks.
Moreover, depreciation of the local currency has hit nearly everyone in Lebanon, especially migrants.
Dollar went up six times in just one year
In Lebanon, US dollar went up six times in last one year makingeverything pricier amid the economic crisis.
First Secretary at the Bangladesh Embassy in Beirut Abdullah Al Mamun said, "Tourism and remittance are the main sources of foreign currency in Lebanon. But both have slumped in recent months, which played a role in devaluation of the local currency. Besides, there is a huge gap between export and import."
"Foreign workers are usually paid in US dollar, but now they are getting wages in Lebanese Pound which is highly devalued," the first secretary told the business standard.
Mamun said employers arepaying employees in line with the previous rate.
"So, when migrants want to send money to Bangladesh, they have to buy dollars at a higher rate. It means they are sending much less than before," he explained.