Sri Lanka is facing a logistical nightmare in trying to contact around 93,000 nationals — mostly housemaids — working in Lebanon, and has so far managed to evacuate just 300, officials said on Friday.
Around 1.5 million Sri Lankans work abroad, most of them women working in the Middle East as domestic staff, and many are not registered with their local embassies — which are small anyway and do not have the resources to reach so many people in times of crisis.
There are around 93,000 Sri Lankans currently working in Lebanon, 86,000 of them housemaids, said Jagath Wellawatta, Chairman of Sri Lanka's Foreign Employment Bureau.
"It is logistically very, very difficult to get in contact with that many people. We have under 500 people waiting to be evacuated, but we hope that number will increase," he said.
"We have very few officials in the Lebanon embassy ... We don't know where people are staying or if they are injured or not," Wellawatta added.
"If it is necessary, we are ready to evacuate all Sri Lankan workers."
Sri Lanka has advised all of its nationals to leave Lebanon in the face of deepening conflict between Israel and Hizbollah.
Aid groups including Caritas and the International Organisation for Migration are helping to evacuate those who have gathered at Sri Lanka's Lebanon mission to Damascus.