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LEBANON: Human Rights Watch highlights plight of Iraqis

BEIRUT, 5 December 2007 (IRIN) - Many Iraqi asylum-seekers in Lebanon face the choice of jail or deportation to their homeland, where their lives could be at risk, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on 4 December.

Lebanon does not recognise the refugee status of the estimated 50,000 Iraqis it hosts, and treats them as illegal immigrants. If they are found by the authorities, they can be arrested for lacking residency papers or work permits.

About 580 Iraqis are in Lebanese prisons, the report said. Most will have to “agree” to go home to secure their release.

“Iraqi refugees in detention are thus presented with a repugnant choice: either they continue to suffer indefinite detention or they agree to go back to the country from which they fled,” HRW wrote in its report entitled: Rot Here or Die There: Bleak Choices for Iraqi Refugees in Lebanon.

Lebanon hosts comparatively few of the estimated 4.4 million Iraqi refugees and asylum-seekers internationally, but the tiny, diverse country of four million people was torn apart by civil war from 1975-1990 and relations between roughly 400,000 Palestinians and their hosts are tense.

Lebanese, the report said, fear another refugee population could tip its fragile balance, strained by an enduring political crisis, and that Iraq’s sectarian tensions could feed its own.

Lebanon has not signed the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, gives no legal effect to the UN Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR’s) recognition of Iraqi refugees, and has no domestic refugee law, the report said.

Conditions in prison are so intolerable, HRW said, that the “choice” presented ill deserves the name. So in practice if not in theory, Lebanon is flouting its international obligations and practising `refoulement’ - deporting refugees to a place where their freedom or life is threatened, it said.

No rights

Nadim Houry, HRW’s Lebanon researcher, told IRIN the Lebanese authorities would benefit from granting rights to the asylum-seekers and making them visible to the security authorities.

“The Lebanese authorities need to give the Iraqis temporary legal residency and the right to circulate and find work,” he said. “Doing so in no way means they are going to absorb another population of long-term refugees.”

“The Lebanese, a people who have themselves had the bitter experience of being refugees, should extend a more welcoming hand to Iraqis who are going through war.”

Lack of legal rights exposes Iraqi refugees to exploitation by employers and landlords, HRW said. Arrests are not systematic, but cause widespread fear. Some parents send their children, who are less likely to be arrested, out to work to provide for the family.

Go to police, go to prison

One woman described how she felt she could not report the rape of her 13-year-old daughter in 2006.

“At UNHCR they asked if I had gone to the police to report the rape,” she told HRW. “But how could I do that? I don’t have legal documents [residence papers]. I would go to prison if I went to the police.”

The international community must help countries forced to support refugees only because they share a region, HRW said. “Lebanon played no role in creating the Iraqi refugee crisis, and has no more responsibility than any other country to solve it.”

Houry said HRW had presented the report to the General Security department, under the Interior Ministry, on 4 December and had discussed concerns on both sides.



Copyright © IRIN 2007
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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