Left high and dry in Lebanon
Indians keen to leave Lebanon due to the collapse of the economy, the pandemic and anti-government rioting remain stranded in the middle-eastern country despite ministerial and official-level assurances over a fortnight ago of a repatriation flight from Beirut.
Many of them have lost their jobs because of the pre-pandemic collapse of the Lebanese economy in the face of a nationwide shortage of dollars.
They have been asked by their former employers to vacate the accommodations provided to them.
In mid-May, junior external affairs minister V. Muraleedharan had assured some of the stranded Malayalis that a repatriation flight would be organised out of Beirut within a week for all Indians stuck in Lebanon.
On May 22, ministry secretary Sanjay Bhattacharyya had tweeted: “Within next few days Vande Bharat Mission will have flights from Amman, Djibouti, Cairo, Tel Aviv, Beirut to bring home stranded Indians, even while most compelling cases from Gulf repatriated in larger numbers.”
According to Ratnakaran, who after losing his job and residence has moved in with a friend, the Indian embassy had informed them that there would be a flight out by June 1 or 2. Around 250 Indians had registered for that flight.
“Many of us registered with the mission for the flight and some of us who still had jobs informed our employers that we are leaving because repatriation is being organised for us. Now, we have no job and no flight,” he said.
Jinju Raj, a former president of the Kerala Welfare Association, told The Telegraph that the embassy had made all arrangements for repatriation except for issuing flight tickets, but was informed at the last minute that Air India would not be flying to Beirut to pick up the Indians.
The mission then tried to organise a chartered flight at $500 per passenger but that too did not materialise.
The external affairs ministry did not respond to questions from this newspaper on why no repatriation flight had been arranged to bring stranded Indians back from Beirut despite the minister’s assurance and the secretary’s announcement.
According to the Indian embassy’s website, about 9,000 Indians live in Lebanon.