Sri Lanka urges nationals in Lebanon to stay put

July 25, 2006 (AFP) – Sri Lanka, which has the largest contingent of expatriate workers in Lebanon, wants those trapped in the conflict to stay put and those who have fled the bombings to return, a minister said Tuesday. “We are not encouraging them to come back. In fact, we want them to go back (to Lebanon),” Labour Relations and Foreign Employment Minister Athauda Senevirathne told a media conference in Colombo.
“That is my position.”

He said family members should not call their relatives in Lebanon to urge them to return home.

“I don’t think a large number of people want to come back. They are used to (conflict),” Senevirathne said. “The problem is that people here telephone them and ask them to return. If these people don’t call, they will not return.”

Some 80,000 nationals of Sri Lanka, which has been embroiled in ethnic violence that has claimed over 60,000 lives since 1972, are employed in Lebanon, mostly as housemaids and labourers.

Senevirathne said the government was making arrangements to bring back anyone who wanted to be evacuated from Lebanon, but did not think the numbers would be unmanageable.

A batch of 776 Sri Lankans, he said, would be evacuated from Beirut on Thursday.

A first