NEWS

Lebanon evacuees with US relatives stuck in Cyprus

NICOSIA – Hundreds of people related to Americans who have fled Lebanon are stranded in Cyprus, packed in a makeshift accommodation center and unable to leave until their paperwork has been processed. US Embassy officials in Nicosia call them «the hard cases» – the ones who did not get on a flight home within a day of arriving – and embassy officials say they hope to process them and get them out in a matter of days. Some have been there as long as eight days, families with small children who sleep on camp beds in large rooms, which they share with 250 or so other people. They have little privacy, and their patience is wearing thin. «Every day we go ask them, and they say ‘in two days, in two days,’» said Mirvat Zamnun, 18, who with her mother and brother is hoping to return to Chicago, where they once lived. US State Department officials in Washington did not immediately return a call seeking comment. «I’m worried about me. I’m not feeling well,» Siba Bazzi said on Thursday, sitting at a table inside a restaurant at the evacuees’ center at a fairground. Eight months pregnant, she is too tired to push away her 7-year-old twin boys, Ahmad and Khalil, a rambunctious pair pulling at her sleeves. They are American – born in the US – but she is not, and because of that she has been waiting for a visa, tired, miserable and worried. «If I can’t be with my husband, with my family, how should I feel?» she asked, smiling wanly. About 5,800 miles (9,334 kilometers) away in Michigan, her husband Tarek Hissy, a Lebanese man with a British passport and a US green card, waits impatiently to see his family. «I’m just frustrated. I want my wife back, I want my sons back and I want my baby back,» said Hissy, who manages a chain of Arabic restaurants. He had not been in Lebanon with his family. «All I’m doing now is waiting,» he said in a telephone interview. Embassy officials are working hard to make the evacuees comfortable. The center, made up of several pavilions, is air-conditioned and includes a restaurant where those who fled Lebanon can dine for free. Outside, children play soccer and mothers sit together, shielding their eyes from the sun and sharing their stories. But inside the pavilions they are in rooms packed with hundreds of camp beds, and many are forced to sleep in the hallways. The buildings are filled with the sound of screaming babies and chattering women. The men, for the most part, sit quietly. Bazzi, 28, arrived from Beirut on Saturday on the USS Nashville. «If my husband were here, I could stay here one month,» she said. «It’s so hard for me without my husband, because the kids don’t listen to me.» Bazzi is Lebanese but grew up in Sierra Leone and then Congo. She joined relatives in the US in 1998, where she married her husband. The twins were born there. She had arrived in Michigan on a tourist visa, and stayed illegally for years. Her immigration lawyer told her that it would be best for her to leave the country while they tried to get her a green card, and she moved to Lebanon in June. Now, she is stuck. So is Amira Yassine, 15, who has been at the center in Nicosia for five days with her two siblings and parents, hoping to join relatives in Florida. The children are American, but their mother is Colombian and the father Lebanese. «They give us food, they give us shelter. But the problem is we don’t know how long we’re going to be here, and our family is really worried about us,» she said.