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Last Updated: Monday, 17 July 2006, 13:18 GMT 14:18 UK
Sri Lankans 'stranded' in Lebanon
By Debabani Majumdar
BBC News

An Israeli mobile artillery unit fires shells at Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon
The Sri Lankans are trying to leave before fighting intensifies
The Sri Lankan embassy in Beirut is trying to evacuate an estimated 80,000 of its nationals from Lebanon.

Embassy officials say that they are facing a big challenge as almost half of these immigrants apparently do not have legal documents.

Over the weekend nearly 100 Sri Lankans - detained for violating immigration laws - were released.

Israel launched an offensive last week following the capture of two of its soldiers by Lebanese guerrillas.

Speaking to the BBC HMK Herath, Second Secretary in the Sri Lankan embassy in Beirut, said that attacks on airports, sea ports and bridges has made the prospect of a quick evacuation difficult.

"We are trying to organise evacuation but there is very little that we can do as most government organisations are paralysed. So we cannot pre-plan."

'Very complicated'

A Christian charity, Caritas, is providing shelter to the Sri Lankan immigrants in the mountainous area of Raifoon in Kesarwan, about 13 km (8 miles) from the capital, Beirut.

The director of the Caritas Migrant Centre in Lebanon, Najla Chahda, said they appealed to the authorities to release all illegal migrants detained in a prison in Ashrafi in downtown Beirut, 100 of whom were Sri Lankans.

We are working on it... once we get a clear exit point we can go ahead with evacuation, but its very complicated and difficult.
HMK Herath,Second Secretary in the Sri Lankan Embassy

The prison is located under a bridge and was a potential target for attacks, Ms Chahda said. The released immigrants have been shifted to Raifoon shelter as well.

"We had a medical centre inside the prison, we asked them (authorities) to release detainees as we feared the bridge could be bombed."

The problem of illegal immigrants is troubling the Sri Lankan embassy as well. Mr Herath says that almost half of the 80,000 Sri Lankans do not have proper documents and this poses a problem in their evacuation.

"Immigration rules still apply and we are negotiating with the authorities to allow them to leave. We are in touch with Colombo as well."

Mr Herath says his main concern is that the facilities at the shelter will be stretched as more and more people shift there. He says the embassy has appealed to other foreign aid agencies to provide help to the immigrants.

"We are working on it... once we get a clear exit point we can go ahead with evacuation, but its very complicated and difficult."


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