Indians sans visas flood Beirut mission
Last batch was evacuated a week back, but illegal immigrants are still turning up, reports Shreevatsa Nevatia.india Updated: Aug 03, 2006 01:39 IST
The Indian embassy in Beirut has an unusual problem on its hands. While the last of the 2,000 Indian evacuees left by naval ship on July 26, there’s been a steady stream of Indians turning up at the embassy after that. The problem: Most of them are illegal immigrants with no visas. Many don’t even have a passport or a photocopy of any proof of identity.
Sandeep Singh, of Punjab, only had a passport number. He was sent to Beirut by an agent named Tarseem. He was first sent to Jordan, where he was made to hand over his passport to another ‘agent’ and put on a donkey cart to Lebanon. Sandeep crossed the border 10 months ago, but couldn’t find any work. Finally, he landed a job at a plastic factory north of Beirut.
While that area is not under direct Israeli attack, the factory shut due to lack of raw material. Sandeep was thrown out without being paid his last salary. He somehow managed to get to the Indian embassy, only to find that evacuations were over.
The Indian embassy is doing all it can to help such individuals. Indians still trickling in will be sent to Damascus from where they’ll board an Air India flight back home.
But the operation is a handful. Tejinder Kumar Bakshi, second secretary and consular of the embassy, said: “All Indians must register at the embassy when they first come to Lebanon. But illegal entrants bypass this. They come here only when they lose their jobs and have no way out.” This leads to identity and nationality verification issues.
“We are preparing certificates that will let these people travel to India. But the certificate by itself is not enough. Those without work permits or visas have to pay heavy penalties to the Lebanese immigration authorities. And, to exempt them from that, we have to prepare a set of documents,” said Bakshi, explaining how cumbersome the whole process is.
There were about 12,000 Indian in Lebanon before the start of hostilities. About half of those approaching the embassy now are without proper documentation.