Iraqi refugees prisoners in their Christian locales

  • April 20, 2010

Anwer SalemThe 10,000-plus Iraqis in Lebanon have no legal status. Lebanon never signed the United Nations Convention on Refugees. The country has no legal or administrative mechanism to deal with a person seeking asylum of any kind. While it does recognize Palestinian refugees, they are an exception.

The police are not actively trying to round up refugees and put them in jail or send them out of the country. As long as they don’t wander out of the Christian neighbourhoods of Beirut or otherwise draw attention, authorities are willing to pretend they’re not there.

But a recent announcement stressed that any Iraqis found on the road to Beirut’s airport or caught in the airport would be arrested. Iraqi Chaldeans were outraged by the reaction of their church. Beirut’s Chaldean bishop had his priests read a statement to Iraqi congregations on March 21 saying that if a member of their family was arrested anywhere around the airport they should not phone the parish or the diocese expecting any help.

“The church is leaving the refugees to their own destiny,” said a disgusted and angry Anwer Salem.

At the end of September last year the UNHCR found 42 Iraqis in detention in Lebanon for no other reason than a lack of legal status. On average, an Iraqi will stay in detention for 200 days.

Of course many of those picked up are bread winners who have left the safety of the Christian neighbourhood for work in the marché noir underground labour market.

While they are in jail, families struggle to survive.

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