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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 July 2006, 13:00 GMT 14:00 UK
Sri Lankans to 'stay in Lebanon'
Sri Lankan evacuees arrive in Colombo
Hundreds of Sri Lankans have left Lebanon - thousands remain
Sri Lanka is advising its citizens trapped in Lebanon by Israel's military assault to stay where they are.

Labour relations minister Athauda Senevirathne said most Sri Lankans in Lebanon wanted to remain, and urged relatives not to press them to leave.

About 90,000 Sri Lankans are in Lebanon, the largest contingent of foreign workers. At least one has already died.

About 300 Indian nationals are due to be evacuated from Lebanon on Wednesday.

Millions of South Asians work abroad, mainly in the Gulf. Foreign remittances bring hundreds of millions of dollars into Sri Lanka's economy every year.

Sri Lanka maids

A first batch of 276 Sri Lankans returned to Colombo at the weekend.

Mr Senevirathne said most people in the group he had spoken to wanted to go back to their jobs.

We are not encouraging them to come back... I don't think a large number of people want to come back
Athauda Senevirathne,
Labour relations minister

"Only one woman who had worked in Lebanon for 14 years said she wanted to stay back [in Sri Lanka]," the minister told a news conference in the capital.

He said the government was making arrangements to evacuate anyone who wanted to leave Lebanon.

But he added: "We are not encouraging them to come back... I don't think a large number of people want to come back.

"The problem is that people here telephone them and ask them to return. If these people don't call, they will not return."

Another 776 Sri Lankans were due to be evacuated from Beirut on Thursday, he added.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka's Ambassador to Lebanon, Amanul Farooq, says that many domestic helpers who had been trapped in southern Lebanon have managed to find transport and make their way to the embassy in Beirut.

"Over the last two days many women who worked as domestic workers came to Beirut from the south of Lebanon," he told the BBC News website.

Bomb wreckage in Beirut
Hundreds have been killed in the Lebanon bombing

"Somehow they found the transport. Currently we are processing about 2,000 more people to leave the country."

Some terrified Sri Lankans trapped in southern Lebanon told the BBC News website that their employers had stopped them from leaving and, in some cases, confiscated their passports.

The embassy in Beirut has advised Sri Lankans in the south to head to the capital if they can, with or without passports.

But it is urging them to avoid travelling in trucks which are being targeted by the Israeli aerial bombardment.

Indians flee

Nearly 1,500 Indians have been already evacuated from Lebanon over the past few days.

Indian Ambassador to Lebanon Nemcha Lhouvum said that Indian naval ships were in international waters near the capital, Beirut, for Wednesday's evacuation.

Ms Lhouvum told the BBC that the Indian embassy in Beirut is also organising papers for Indian nationals who want to leave the country, but are facing problems with their employers.

"There are a very few cases like that. We are helping them," she said.

There are an estimated 12,000 Indians and over 90,000 Sri Lankans in Lebanon. There are also many nationals from Bangladesh and Nepal.

Many of the South Asian nationals are unskilled or semi-skilled labourers working in factories, industrial units or as domestic staff.

Many of them have been living in Lebanon for more than two decades.

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