Sri Lanka seeks help for tens of thousands in Lebanon

July 24, 2006 (AFP) – Sri Lanka is seeking urgent help to evacuate workers trapped in Lebanon, despite the vast majority of its estimated 80,000 nationals there apparently not wanting to leave, officials said Monday. Sri Lanka has by far the largest number of foreign workers in Lebanon working mostly as housemaids, truck drivers and child-minders, but officials said that very few had requested assistance in returning home.

The Foreign Employment Bureau, a regulatory authority, said it did not expect a huge exodus of Sri Lankan nationals as most workers preferred to stay in areas unaffected by the conflict.

“We don’t expect to evacuate all 80,000 Sri Lankans,” said Shirani Ekanayake, the Bureau’s coordinator for the relief effort in Lebanon.

“At the moment, no one is expecting a huge evacuation. There are lots of people who don’t want to come back and those who want to return are being helped.”

Bureau officials said some Sri Lankans who had stayed illegally in Lebanon were afraid to leave fearing they would be arrested, while others were concerned they would be unable to return when the security situation improves.

A first batch of some 270 men and women who had sought shelter in the Sri Lankan emb