Expatriate workers at gas stations in Lebanon face insults, threats and assault amid fuel shortage

Long queues outside gas stations have sparked brawls, traffic jams, accidents on nearby roads and even gunfights as Lebanon's crisis deepens. (AN Photo/Bassam Zaazaa)
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Long queues outside gas stations have sparked brawls, traffic jams, accidents on nearby roads and even gunfights as Lebanon's crisis deepens. (AN Photo/Bassam Zaazaa)
Long queues outside gas stations have sparked brawls, traffic jams, accidents on nearby roads and even gunfights as Lebanon's crisis deepens. (AN Photo/Bassam Zaazaa)
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Long queues outside gas stations have sparked brawls, traffic jams, accidents on nearby roads and even gunfights as Lebanon's crisis deepens. (AN Photo/Bassam Zaazaa)
Long queues outside gas stations have sparked brawls, traffic jams, accidents on nearby roads and even gunfights as Lebanon's crisis deepens. (AN Photo/Bassam Zaazaa)
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Long queues outside gas stations have sparked brawls, traffic jams, accidents on nearby roads and even gunfights as Lebanon's crisis deepens. (AN Photo/Bassam Zaazaa)
Long queues outside gas stations have sparked brawls, traffic jams, accidents on nearby roads and even gunfights as Lebanon's crisis deepens. (AN Photo/Bassam Zaazaa)
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Long queues outside gas stations have sparked brawls, traffic jams, accidents on nearby roads and even gunfights as Lebanon's crisis deepens. (AN Photo/Bassam Zaazaa)
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Updated 25 June 2021

Expatriate workers at gas stations in Lebanon face insults, threats and assault amid fuel shortage

Expatriate workers at gas stations in Lebanon face insults, threats and assault amid fuel shortage
  • Some are leaving the country, others are saving up for tickets to return home
  • One Sudanese worker told how he was shot at for refusing to open the pumps

BEIRUT: Lebanon is suffering massive fuel shortages amid the worsening economic crisis in the country. Long queues outside gas stations have sparked brawls, traffic jams, accidents on nearby roads and even gunfights.

Abdo Mustafa, an Egyptian expatriate working as a gas station attendant in Beirut, revealed that following the announcement last weekend of an increase in fuel prices he has been insulted and beaten by some people among the long queues of drivers waiting to fill up their vehicles.

He came to Lebanon to “earn good money to support his family, not be beaten or insulted,” he told Arab News on Thursday.

“This fuel-shortage crisis has developed so quickly, and its grimness and uncertainty has unfolded vastly and negatively on migrant workers in Lebanon.”

Mustafa, a 37-year-old father of two, has now decided to return home because of the devaluation of the Lebanese currency and the scarcity of dollars amid a worsening economic crisis, along with the personal abuse he is receiving as a result of the worsening fuel shortages.

On Thursday, Lebanon’s National News Agency reported that President Michel Aoun was heading a meeting to address the fuel crisis and its effects. The other participants included the caretaker ministers of power and finance, and the governor of Banque du Liban, Lebanon’s central bank.




With more than 10,000 expatriates employed at about 2,000 gas stations in Lebanon, it seems likely that more will leave as soon as they can afford to do so, given the escalating risk of insults, assaults and even death threats. (AN Photo/Bassam Zaazaa)

They discussed a number of proposals designed to prevent any damaging escalations that might affect security and social stability. Local media reported that plans were approved to import subsidized fuel at the higher exchange rate of 3,900 Lebanese pounds to the dollar, which is the rate at which customers are currently permitted to withdraw their savings, instead of the official exchange rate of 1,500 pounds.

Ebrahim, the Lebanese manager of a gas station in the Hamra area, said he believes fuel prices will continue to rise.

“This has got to end, otherwise security deterioration is inevitable,” he told Arab News. “A Bangladeshi and a Sudanese worker already left us. They couldn’t tolerate the economic situation, or being attacked by irritated clients.”

He added that the action agreed by the authorities during Thursday’s meeting is merely a temporary solution.

Egyptian worker Abdullah Ahmad said the economic situation in Lebanon was so “good and enticing” when he arrived in the country in 2011.

“When we could purchase the dollar at (the official rate of) 1,500 (pounds) we made good money that we sent to our families. My cousin convinced me to come,” he said.

Now Ahmad, too, is trying to save money so that he can afford to return home.

“I didn’t come here to be humiliated,” he said. “Last week a provoked client cursed my whole family when the fuel ran out before his turn.”

Gas stations have been constantly low on subsidized fuel for many weeks but the shortages got worse this month as fears grew among the public of rationing and pumps running dry. As a result, a large number of petrol stations closed.

“A number of fistfights, heated arguments and shootings have taken place between irritated drivers,” an official from the Internal Security Forces told Arab News. “We have been dispatching two or three policemen at the most-crowded stations to organize traffic flow and enforce security.”

Some workers were reluctant to talk to the media, while others declined to give their names. When approached by Arab News, the manager of one gas station in the Dar Al-Fatwa area said: “Please leave; we don’t want media.”

A few blocks away, in the Msaytbeh neighborhood, Bangladeshi gas station employee Abdul Rahim said that that after being beaten and insulted by waiting motorcyclists last month he asked his boss to move him from pumping fuel to washing cars.

Afraid to give his full name, the 41-year-old added that the area where he works is popular with supporters of the Amal Movement, a Shiite political party led by Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri, a major ally of the pro-Iranian Hezbollah.

The moment the gas station opens, Abdul Rahim said, people flock there. He added that he was surprised “how quickly they learn that the station has opened.”

Several brawls among queuing customers have escalated into gunfights, he added.

“Last month, a massive crowd of motorcyclists shouted and yelled and cursed at me to fill their tanks … after I stopped the pump,” he told Arab News. “I don’t remember how many blows I took or how many times my mother was cursed.”

Nour M., who is also from Bangladesh, and declined to give his full name, said that the neighborhood in which he works is full of supporters of Future Movement leader Saad Hariri, “who flock to the gas station in their hundreds wanting to jump queues and fill up with gas.”

He added: “When (it runs out) I have to simply stop. Angry clients, who look like thugs, instantly beat us. Mostly, they come armed with sticks and beat us if we don’t fill (their tanks).”

The 37-year-old also revealed that he has received death threats, and that he knows many people working in gas stations who take kickbacks in return for ensuring drivers can fuel their vehicles.

“Actually we would be lucky to get extra money to permit them to fill their tanks … with the dollar crisis, some of us act boldly and take kickbacks to recover our losses,” he said.




On Thursday, Lebanon’s National News Agency reported that President Michel Aoun was heading a meeting to address the fuel crisis and its effects. (AN Photo/Bassam Zaazaa)

The manager of another gas station, who refused to give his name because he feared for his safety, said that the owners of many stations suffer at the hands of “politically-affiliated thugs who come in motorcycle groups and terrorize the peaceful car drivers who are lined up.”

He added: “They jump lanes, terrify and threaten our workers. We often encounter more than 10 fights a day.”

Nour Awad from Sudan, who works at a gas station in the Mount Lebanon area, told Arab News that he was shot at in May when he refused to fill a vehicle after the pumps closed.

“I phoned my boss, who was shot at and injured because he refused to open the pumps — he was hospitalized,” he said.

Awad added that he, too, is trying to save enough money to fly back home “as I cannot live or survive here anymore.”

With more than 10,000 expatriates employed at about 2,000 gas stations in Lebanon, it seems likely that more will leave as soon as they can afford to do so, given the escalating risk of insults, assaults and even death threats.

Gas station workers, who mostly come from Bangladesh, Egypt, Syria and Sudan, previously earned the equivalent of about $400 a month, but this has been reduced to about $40 by the devaluation of the Lebanese currency and the soaring exchange rate amid an economic collapse a World Bank report described as the “world’s worst since the mid-19th century.”

Thousands of domestic workers from Asia have also left Lebanon since the financial crisis escalated after the 2019 protests in the country, and salaries lost more than 85 percent of their purchasing power.


EU adopts legal framework for Lebanon sanctions

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EU adopts legal framework for Lebanon sanctions

EU adopts legal framework for Lebanon sanctions

PARIS: The European Union said on Friday it had adopted a legal framework for a sanctions regime targeting Lebanese individuals and entities.
In a statement it said the framework provided for the possibility of imposing sanctions on those responsible for undermining democracy or the rule of law in Lebanon.


FBI probe shows amount of chemicals in Beirut blast was a fraction of original shipment

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Updated 53 min 59 sec ago

FBI probe shows amount of chemicals in Beirut blast was a fraction of original shipment

FBI probe shows amount of chemicals in Beirut blast was a fraction of original shipment
  • Questions remain unanswered, including how a huge quantity of ammonium nitrate was left unsafely stored in the capital for years
  • The blast was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded, killing more than 200 people

WASHINGTON: The amount of ammonium nitrate that blew up at Beirut port last year was one fifth of the shipment unloaded there in 2013, the FBI concluded after the blast, adding to suspicions that much of the cargo had gone missing.
As the first anniversary approaches on Aug. 4, major questions remain unanswered, including how a huge quantity of ammonium nitrate — which can be used to make fertilizer or bombs — was left unsafely stored in a capital city for years.
The blast was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded, killing more than 200 people, wounding thousands, and devastating swathes of Beirut.
The FBI’s Oct. 7, 2020 report, which was seen by Reuters this week, estimates around 552 tons of ammonium nitrate exploded that day, much less than the 2,754 tons that arrived on a Russian-leased cargo ship in 2013.
The FBI report does not give any explanation as to how the discrepancy arose, or where the rest of the shipment may have gone.
In response to a detailed request for comment, an FBI spokesperson referred Reuters to the Lebanese authorities.
FBI investigators came to Beirut after the blast at Lebanon’s request.
A senior Lebanese official who was aware of the FBI report and its findings said the Lebanese authorities agreed with the Bureau on the quantity that exploded.
Many officials in Lebanon have previously said in private they believe a lot of the shipment was stolen.
The ammonium nitrate was going from Georgia to Mozambique on a Russian-leased cargo ship when the captain says he was instructed to make an unscheduled stop in Beirut and take on extra cargo.
The ship arrived in Beirut in November 2013 but never left, becoming tangled in a legal dispute over unpaid port fees and ship defects. No one ever came forward to claim the shipment.
The senior Lebanese official said there were no firm conclusions as to why the quantity that exploded was less than the original shipment. One theory was that part of it was stolen. A second theory was that only part of the shipment detonated, with the rest blown out to sea, the official said.
The FBI report said “an approximate amount reaching around 552 metric tons of ammonium nitrate exploded in warehouse 12.”
It noted the warehouse was large enough to house the 2,754 ton shipment, which was stored in one-ton bags, but added “it is not logical that all of them were present at the time of the explosion.”


Tunisian security forces arrest MP who criticized president

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Updated 58 min 31 sec ago

Tunisian security forces arrest MP who criticized president

Tunisian security forces arrest MP who criticized president
  • Parliamentarian Yassin Ayari’s wife said security arrested him for criticizing Tunisian President on Facebook

TUNIS: Tunisian security forces arrested a member of parliament at his home on Friday, his wife said, after he criticised President Kais Saied on Facebook and called his seizure of governing powers a coup.
Yassin Ayari, who represents a small party in parliament, has previously expressed frequent criticism of Saied, who on Sunday dismissed the prime minister, froze parliament for a month and said he was taking over executive authority.
Neither the security forces nor the judiciary were immediately available for comment on his arrest.
Ayari's wife, Cyrine Fitouri, said by phone that about 20 men in plain clothes who introduced themselves as members of a presidential security unit had raided their home earlier on Friday and used violence as they detained him.
"They took him forcefully while his mother was shouting," she said, adding that they had told the family not to film them as they took him away.
Saied on Thursday said he would uphold freedoms and rights of Tunisians as the United States urged him to return the country to "the democratic path" and key civil society groups said he must uphold the constitution.
His actions appear to have widespread popular support in Tunisia, where years of misgovernance, corruption, political paralysis and economic stagnation have been aggravated this year by a deadly surge in COVID-19 cases.
When he announced his seizure of governing powers on Sunday he also said he would take over public prosecutions and lifted the immunity of parliament members.
The judiciary, which has declared its political independence, said this week it had previously opened investigations into three political parties that have opposed Saied, and has now started investigations into several lawmakers.


Cyprus to vaccinate children aged 12-15 to beat virus

Cyprus to vaccinate children aged 12-15 to beat virus
Updated 30 July 2021

Cyprus to vaccinate children aged 12-15 to beat virus

Cyprus to vaccinate children aged 12-15 to beat virus
  • Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantelas announced that vaccination for children aged between 12 and 15 starts Monday
  • Over 20 per cent of Cypriot teenagers aged 16-17 have received a vaccine shot

NICOSIA: Cyprus decided Friday to expand its Covid-19 vaccination rollout to cover children aged 12 to 15, as authorities tackle a fourth wave of coronavirus.
Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantelas announced that vaccination for children aged between 12 and 15 would start Monday.
“The vaccination will be voluntary and with the necessary consent of the parents or legal guardians,” he said.
“Already several European Union countries, such as France, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, and Greece, vaccinate children aged 12-15 to achieve greater protection of the population,” he told reporters.
Children will be vaccinated with an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna).
Over 20 percent of Cypriot teenagers aged 16-17 have received a vaccine shot.
“The only way to stop new aggressive Covid-19 variants is to vaccinate,” said Hadjipantelas.
Cyprus is experiencing a new surge in cases, peaking at 1,152 on 15 July.
The surge is blamed on the more potent Delta variant and a low vaccination rate among the under 30s.
In a bid to contain the spike, the cabinet decided Friday that unvaccinated visitors and tourists staying longer than seven days will need to take a PCR test after a week’s stay.
Currently, there are no restrictions on vaccinated tourists entering the country.
The island has endured three national lockdowns in the past 16 months, and the government is trying to avoid another one to save the economy.
Hospitals have postponed all non-emergency operations as Covid wards reach capacity.
The health ministry said Cyprus has inoculated 73 percent of the eligible population with a first jab, and 64 percent are fully vaccinated.
The target is to reach “herd immunity” of 80 percent by the end of August.
Government-controlled southern Cyprus has registered over 100,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection and 416 deaths since the pandemic reached its shores in March 2020.
Wearing face masks and social distancing are compulsory.


Lebanon president ready to answer questions on Beirut blast

Lebanon president ready to answer questions on Beirut blast
Updated 30 July 2021

Lebanon president ready to answer questions on Beirut blast

Lebanon president ready to answer questions on Beirut blast
  • Many Lebanese are angry that nearly a year after the incident, no senior official has yet been held responsible

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun told the country’s public prosecutor on Friday he was ready to give a statement about last year’s port blast in the capital Beirut if needed.
“No one is above the law no matter how high up, and justice can only be achieved through the specialized judicial branches that provide guarantees,” Aoun told prosecutor Ghassan Ouidat during a meeting, according to a statement released by the president’s office.
The Aug. 4 explosion at the port, caused by a huge quantity of ammonium nitrate stored unsafely for years, killed over 200 people, injured thousands and destroyed large swathes of the capital.
A probe into the blast led by judge Tarek Bitar has been hindered over the past month as requests sent to parliament and the government to lift immunity and enable questioning of several top officials were either declined or stalled.
Many Lebanese are angry that nearly a year after the incident, no senior official has yet been held responsible.
Influential parliament speaker Nabih Berri said on Thursday the legislature was ready to lift the immunity of its members to allow for questioning but did not detail when or how this would be done.