∙ Bangladeshis have demonstrated in Lebanon for exit passes
∙ Some 1.5 lakh Bangladeshis work in Lebanon
∙ Some 30,000 are undocumented
Thousands of Bangladeshi migrants are desperate to get back home from Lebanon and a section of them staged demonstrations in Beirut to press home their demands.
"We want to return home," hundreds of Bangladeshis in Lebanon are seen chanting the slogan in a video posted on the "Lebanon Probasi Bangladeshi" Facebook group.
They joined a human chain and demonstrated in front of the Bangladesh embassy in Beirut on Monday, demanding exit passes to return home. They gathered there from different parts of the country.
"We have been in great trouble for more than one year here in Lebanon. While the embassies of other countries are giving opportunities and paying for tickets for their citizens to leave the country, our embassy is doing nothing for us," said a Bangladeshi in the video.
These expatriate Bangladeshis said that the Lebanese labour market was in the grips of the pandemic and a long political and economic crisis. The crisis was exacerbated by the August explosion in Beirut and a change of government.
That is why expatriate Bangladeshis are not able to earn enough by working in the country. Where it is difficult to ensure the minimum livelihood, they have no opportunity to send money to the country.
In such a situation, about one lakh expatriate Bangladeshis are living an extremely inhuman life. They are not able to come to the country due to the financial crisis and high ticket prices. Therefore, the expatriates have once again made a request to get back home through the Bangladesh embassy.
According to an unofficial estimate, around 1.5 lakh Bangladeshi expatriates work in Lebanon and most of them are cleaners and housemaids. Around 30,000 are undocumented, according to an unofficial estimate.
Wishing anonymity, an official of the Embassy of Bangladesh in Beirut told The Business Standard, "Earlier, we started a registration process to send the migrants back home. But they have stopped the registration now as the process is complicated. The pandemic has jeopardised the repatriation arrangements."
"However, we have heard the demonstrating migrants' demands and sent those to the expatriate welfare ministry. We will take action according to the guidelines of the ministry," he added.
Lebanon's economy was suffering even before the pandemic.
There have been plenty of financial miseries going around in Lebanon for the last year, which intensified amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, leaving thousands of Bangladeshi expatriates jobless in the West Asian country.
The novel coronavirus pandemic did not spark the beginning of a financial crisis in the 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.
First Secretary at the Bangladesh Embassy in Beirut Abdullah Al Mamun told The Business Standard (TBS) in August, "Tourism and remittances are the main sources of foreign currency in Lebanon. But both have slumped in recent months, which has played a role in the devaluation of the local currency. Besides, there is a huge gap between exports and imports."
"Foreign workers are usually paid in US dollars, but now they are getting wages in Lebanese Pounds which are highly devalued," the first secretary told TBS.
Mamun said employers are paying 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 back much less than before," he explained.