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Expatriates, including Christians, trapped in Lebanon

20 July 2006

While affluent and powerful Western states have managed to evacuate many of their nationals from Lebanon, expatriates from poorer countries in the developing world who are living and working in Lebanon seem to have no one to help them leave. There are many Christians among them.

Many Westerners were absorbed in recent days watching the successful evacuation of their fellow citizens from Lebanon. We are glad for all those brought to safety. As Christians, however, we ought also to think of those who are not offered such options, including Christian brothers and sisters. Many unskilled workers from the developing world will be in Lebanon without the necessary documentation, as part of the work-seeking migration from economically poor states to countries with employment opportunities. Most Sri Lankans in Lebanon, for instance, are employed as house maids. Many are desperate to escape the violence, but their own governments are too poor or too uninterested in their fate to help them. There have been reports of some trying to climb over the port gates of Beirut to get onto the ships taking the Western expatriates to safety.

As a media report noted:

Evacuation is, however, the preserve of richer people. The advice to 80,000 Sri Lankan and 30,000 Filipino migrant workers in Lebanon is to stay put. (”Warships join rescue flotilla for biggest evacuation since Dunkirk”, The Times, 19 July 2006).

The government of Sri Lanka claimed that evacuating its 90,000 nationals from Lebanon would be a “logistical nightmare”. Even contacting them was almost impossible.

Estimates of three of the largest groups are as follows:

Sri Lanka 90,000
Philippines 34,000
Bangladesh 10,000

Most Filipinos are Christian, and there are also some Christians in the other groups.