Bangladeshis in Strife-Torn Lebanon: Beirut explosion throws them into a deeper crisis
Mahin Mia was serving guests in a Lebanese restaurant, which is a seven minutes' walk from the warehouse that exploded on Tuesday evening, rocking entire Beirut.
"There was a bang. The window panes broke and fell on us. I suffered deep cuts on my head and right hand," said the 23-year-old Bangladeshi migrant, who has been working there since 2016.
Restaurant employees rushed him and some other injured to a nearby hospital. She required 15 stitches to head wounds and his right hand was bandaged.
The next day, he was asked to return to his home where he lives with some 10 other Bangladeshi migrants.
"I myself had to buy medicines. The doctor has asked me to see him after two weeks," said Mahin, adding that it was a very tough situation for him as he had no idea about when his restaurant would reopen, if at all.
The twin explosion, which is being linked to a huge stockpile of ammonium nitrate in the warehouses at Beirut Port, damaged thousands of businesses, homes and other structures and left at least 145 people dead, more than 5,000 wounded and some 300,000 homeless.
At least four Bangladeshis were killed and 102 others, including 21 Bangladesh Navy members, injured.
Mahin said he could hardly send money home in the last few months because the Lebanese Lira was heavily devalued against the US dollar over the last one year.
Last year, protestors took to the streets in Lebanon against the then ruling party for years of mismanagement in the country's economy. With many businesses closing since then, thousands of Bangladeshis and other nationals lost jobs.
The situation worsened with the Covid-19 lockdown being enforced since March this year.
Tuesday's explosion added insult to the injury of Lebanon, home to some 150,000 Bangladeshis. The damage caused by the explosion is estimated to be up to $15 billion, Lebanon government officials told the media.
"I don't know what I will do now. It's a panicky situation in Lebanon," Mahin, who hails from Brahmanbaria's Kasba upazila, told this correspondent over phone yesterday.
Before the pandemic, officials of the Bangladesh embassy in Beirut estimated that some 30,000 Bangladeshis were undocumented. The situation has worsened by now, they said.
Ripon Khan, another Bangladeshi expatriate in Beirut, said he used to work as a security guard at a school, but he has been jobless for six months now.
"Since then I have been bringing money from home. How long can I survive like this?" he said.
There are many Bangladeshis who neither have jobs nor can bring money from home. Even those who are working can a save little amount because of the high price of US dollars and daily essentials.
Ripon said Lira has become so cheap against dollar that his monthly salary would have been equivalent to about $100 now, down from $400 a year ago.
Many Bangladeshis don't get full salaries now, he added.
"The Beirut explosion has caused more troubles. For many months, I was expecting that the situation would improve. But now I want to return home," said Ripon, who hails from Brahmanbaria.
Abdullah Al Mamun, head of chancery at the Bangladesh embassy in Beirut, admitted that there is joblessness among many migrants and the high price of US dollar has worsened the situation.
"The Bangladesh government had sought funding from the International Organisation for Migration a few months back for repatriation of undocumented Bangladeshis from Lebanon. But the move has seen no progress," he said.
Many of the undocumented Bangladeshi migrants are now managing money to buy tickets to return home. Nearly 8,000 have registered with the Bangladesh embassy so far for returning home, said Mamun.
Some 200 have already returned home, he said, adding that some 15,000 more may return home in the coming months.
Shakirul Islam, chairman of Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Programme, said they know a lot of Bangladeshis in Lebanon, including women domestic workers, passing days in hardship without jobs.
"The government should actively work to repatriate them from abroad," he said.