Some 470 Bangladeshi migrant workers are set to return home this week from crisis-hit Lebanon, following applications for repatriation under a special programme announced by authorities. Many of them are desperate to return home, said officials and migrant workers living in the Arab country.
The returning migrant workers, including some physically ailing and more than 200 women -- will be the second batch of workers to be repatriated willingly since the programme was announced in September last year.
Six Air Arabia Airline flights will carry the workers to Dhaka between February 15 and 23, said an official at the Bangladesh embassy in Beirut.
The first batch, comprising about 582 workers returned home in December last year, the official said.
Amid an economic meltdown, around 1.6 lakh Bangladeshi migrant workers are passing days in uncertainty in Lebanon, as many of them have either lost their jobs or remained unpaid over the last few months.
Of them, some 30,000 are undocumented, according to media reports.
Abdullah Al Mamun, first secretary at the labour welfare wing of the Bangladesh Mission in Beirut, said they have received about 3,683 applications in two phases since the special programme was announced.
Of those, 2,383 applications were received in September and about 1,300 more in February this year, he told this newspaper by phone.
Mamun, also head of chancery at the Beirut Mission, said they are expecting to receive about 1,200 more applications in the second phase which will bring the number of workers to be repatriated under the programme to nearly 5,000.
"Those who applied are now illegal residents [in Lebanon]," he added.
He said they are looking for a suitable place outside the embassy to run activities under the programme, as the embassy premises is not large enough to handle the rush of the workers.
Lebanon's mismanaged economy has been stagnant for nearly a decade. The crisis has deepened in recent months with an acute dollar shortage leading banks to restrict foreign currency withdrawals in the heavily "dollarised economy", reports Al Jazeera.
Scores of businesses have closed down and thousands of employees have been laid off or had their working hours and wages slashed. Meanwhile, prices of everyday goods have gone up, according to media reports.
Last year, the World Bank estimated that up to half of Lebanon's population could fall into poverty, up from 30 percent in 2018. "Unemployment, especially among youth, is already high and could further rise sharply," it cautioned.
Lebanon is also reeling from a political crisis. Thousands have been taking to the streets for over three months demanding a productive economy, an end to corruption and the ouster of sectarian leaders who have ruled the country since its civil war ended in 1990.
Rana Ahmed, a migrant worker from Brahmanbaria's Nabinagar upazila, applied under the special programme at the beginning of this month and have been waiting for his repatriation.
Rana said he used to earn about US$ 700 per month as a welder at a workshop in the city of Nahr Ibrahim. He lost that job in October last year after the workshop was shut down.
Now Rana, who needs to support his wife and two daughters back home, has to wait anxiously every day to be hired on a daily basis. This way he can work five days a month at best, Rana said.
"It's difficult to meet my own expenses with the current income. How can I send money home?" he added.
Abdul Kuddus, a Bangladeshi living in Beirut, said many Bangladeshis in the Lebanese capital were passing days without regular jobs for the last few months.
Kuddus, who is involved in a social media-based welfare platform for Bangladeshis in Lebanon, said many Bangladeshis who mostly work as cleaners used to earn about US$ 400 a month.
With that income, they were able to send about Tk 20,000 every month back home after meeting their monthly expenses, he said.
However, income of such workers have down to half now and sending even Tk 10,000 back home is quite difficult for them, he added.