BEIRUT: Some 400 Bangladeshi migrants gathered outside the Bangladeshi Embassy in Bir Hassan in the south of Beirut Tuesday. They crowd was trying to gain entrance to the embassy to have their exit visas expedited in order to leave Lebanon.
As the crowd, shouting and screaming, attempted to push into the building, police used rubber pipes to beat them back, demanding that they withdraw. Some in the crowd responsed by hurling projectiles back at the officers.
The desperate scene reflects how far the situation has deteriorated for migrant workers in Lebanon following months of economic contraction that has left many without work. “There is no work in Lebanon anymore,” one man, who declined to be identified, said as he tried to gain admittance into the embassy.
“Before there was work but now, with no money, life is impossible. Food, water, lodgings, this all costs money and there is none, so of course we want to return to Bangladesh,” he said.
For those who still have work, the situation is only marginally better. The dollar shortage and the devaluation of the lira are hitting migrants especially hard, and have effectively slashed their wages because, in order to send money home, they are forced to buy dollars at higher prices than the official peg, reducing their overall earnings by as much as 30 percent.
“We have our child and our parents back in Bangladesh,” explained one married couple who also wished to remain anonymous. “Before these problems started five months ago, we would make $600 a month and send $400 to our family by Western Union. But now there is a problem with the shortage of dollars, there is no work and our accommodations cost $120. We cannot survive.”
Meanwhile, Tuesday's scene outside the embassy underscores the fact that the procedure for expedited exit visas, agreed between the Bangladeshi Embassy and General Security, is struggling to meet migrants’ urgent wishes to get out of Lebanon.
According to Abdullah Al Mamun, head of Chancery and Consul at the Bangladeshi Embassy, 2,500 migrants without residency permits have applied to the embassy to expedite their exit visa requests. “We have only been able to accommodate 500 requests for exit visas because of administrative difficulties,” he told The Daily Star.
The embassy is receiving approximately 500 names a day and is working to support those who need to return home, but the number of people trying to return to Bangladesh is straining the embassy’s ability to process them quickly. “They could apply at General Security but the waiting times are so long,” Mamun said.
The Bangladeshi Embassy and General Security have agreed that Bangladeshi migrants without papers must pay a one-year penalty for illegal residency. For men that amounts to LL400,000 and for women LL300,000.