Bangladeshi workers marooned in Lebanon economic meltdown

Lebanon is grappling with an unprecedented economic crisis branded by the World Bank as one of the planet's worst in modern times.

Jamil Mahmud

Jamil Mahmud

The Daily Star


December 22, 2021

Migrant worker Mashiur Titu saw his monthly income in Lebanon drop by half in two years due to a prolonged economic crisis in the Arab country.

The 40-year-old Bangladeshi expatriate and a service technician at a packaging company in Beirut said he used to earn $900 a month. After the crisis unfolded in 2019, the company started paying him in Lebanese pounds

His employer in November last year agreed to pay him in two currencies — $400 and 7.5 lakh Lebanese pounds (equivalent to $500 at a rate of 1,500 Lebanese pounds per US dollar).

“But you will not get US dollars at commercial banks. If you want to convert 7.5 lakh Lebanese pound in the black market, you would get about $40-$50 at that time,” he told The Daily Star over the phone.

This forced Titu, a migrant from Brahmanbaria, to think about his future in Lebanon as he was in dilemma whether he would return home.

Like him, thousands of other Bangladeshi workers are now facing severe financial crisis in Lebanon. Workers say they cannot afford their monthly expenses, and support their families back home.

The condition of undocumented workers is even worse as their wages are lower.

There are about 1.20 lakh Bangladeshi migrants, including an estimated 20,000 undocumented ones, in Lebanon, according to sources in the Bangladesh embassy in Beirut.

Amid the economic crisis, over 14,000 undocumented migrant workers have returned home from Lebanon since 2019 under special repatriation programmes arranged by the Bangladesh mission, said embassy officials.

Many others, especially the undocumented ones, are now thinking of returning home, say migrant workers.

However, a section of workers cannot afford the return airfare of $400 as they would need to pay 10 million Lebanese pound for buying the equivalent US dollars in the black market. They have urged the Bangladesh government to provide a subsidy on their airfare.

Wishing anonymity, an undocumented Bangladeshi worker said he wanted to return home but could not arrange the airfare. That’s why he could not even register with the Bangladesh Embassy for repatriation.

He called upon the Bangladesh government to provide workers like him with full or partial airfare.

The migrant said he had to borrow about Tk 50,000 from his relatives in Bangladesh in the last three months to pay for rent and food in Lebanon.

Md Zakir Hossain, a 39-year-old worker at a cleaning company in Beirut, said he earns about 30 lakh Lebanese pounds a month which is $120 on the black market rate.

Besides, his wife earns about $200 a month as a worker at a security service company.

“We are now consuming more vegetables as we cannot afford enough meat and fish with our present income,” said Zakir.

Babu Saha, a Bangladeshi journalist in Beirut, said if the economic crisis drags on, most of the Bangladeshi migrant workers may have to return home ultimately.

Meanwhile, Lebanese Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh yesterday said his country needs to receive $12 to 15 billion from its partners to kickstart its economic recovery and shore up fast-diminishing foreign currency reserves, reports AFP.

Lebanon is grappling with an unprecedented economic crisis branded by the World Bank as one of the planet’s worst in modern times.

Reuters on Thursday reported that the Arab country’s economy has been in freefall since 2019, when a mountain of debt and political gridlock, drove the nation into its deepest crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.

It said the Lebanese pound, which was exchanged freely at 1,500 to the dollar before the crisis, has collapsed to around 25,000 on the unofficial market.

Shariful Hasan, head of Brac Migration Programme, yesterday said there is little hope that Lebanon’s economic situation would improve soon.

“At present, most of the Bangladeshi migrant workers in Lebanon are facing hardship due to devaluation of Lebanese currency,” he told The Daily Star.

It will not be wise to send fresh workers to Lebanon. Besides, the government should extend its support to those who are facing hardship, including arranging airfare for those in need, Shariful said.

The government can also consider arranging migration of workers to a third country, he said.

Syed Saiful Haque, chairman of Warbe Development Foundation, yesterday said many migrant workers who returned home from Lebanon recently had faced “wage theft”.

He urged the Bangladesh government and the Bangladesh mission in Beirut to extend their support to the workers ensuring equal access to the service.

Abdullah Al Mamun, first secretary (labour welfare wing) of the Bangladesh mission in Beirut, said although there were jobs for Bangladeshi migrants, the major problem was the US dollar crisis.

He said about 200 undocumented migrant workers who registered with the embassy under a repatriation programme were waiting to return home.

The embassy will arrange a chartered flight for them as there is no direct air link between the two countries.

Asked about providing subsidy on the return airfare, he said they were not considering the matter yet as there was no directive from the expatriates welfare ministry in this regard.

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