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FMR IRAQ special issue 35

Iraqi refugees in
Lebanon: continuous
lack of protection
by Samira Trad and Ghida Frangieh

There are no official statistics but there may be more Prima facie refugee status
than 40,000 Iraqi refugees in Lebanon. Lebanon
During the UNHCR Pre-Excom NGOs
already hosts some 400,000 Palestinians for whom Consultation Meeting in October
no durable solution is in sight. In the absence of a 2006, Frontiers Ruwad Association
policy response, is there a danger of the Iraqi refugees participated in the drafting of an
becoming ‘Palestinised’ – left in limbo in the Levant? NGO Statement which expressed
concern for the indefinite use of
temporary protection and called for
Most Iraqis have entered Lebanon via safe return to the country of origin the recognition of Iraqi refugees on a
Syria. They include large numbers when conditions permit. The rationale prima facie basis in order to end the
of Iraqi Christians who believe they of the temporary protection regime state of limbo and ensure an effective
will find safety among Lebanon’s is to avoid the overwhelming of protection for Iraqi refugees in the
Christian communities. Iraqi refugees refugee status procedures and to Middle East. In December 2006,
find it next to impossible to obtain an maintain the possibility of return UNHCR issued an advisory return
entry visa to Lebanon so have entered once there is a political settlement for Iraqis2 in which it recommended
the country illegally, often assisted of the conflict in the country of that states and UNHCR should
by smugglers. They are thus at threat origin. It is premised on the belief declare Iraqis as refugees on a prima
of arrest and conviction for ‘illegal that the conflict which has caused facie basis except for those who
entry’, regardless of their status with the mass displacement is soon to be were residing in Iraqi Kurdistan and
UNHCR. Lebanon is not a signatory resolved and it focuses on return those who fall under the exclusions
to the 1951 Refugee Convention and as the most appropriate solution.1 clauses of the 1951 Convention.
lacks effective legislation regulating
asylum. Lebanon has also repeatedly The implementation of the temporary Like the temporary protection
stated that it is not a country of protection regime for Iraqis was based regime, prima facie refugee status
asylum due to its demographic and on the belief that the US-led invasion determination is based on the idea
social composition and to the fact that would overthrow Saddam Hussein’s that a group of people – who share
it already hosts more than 400,000 regime and speedily restore stability common criteria such as country
Palestinian refugees. To make matters and democracy to Iraq. As a result, of origin or date of flight – should
worse, the Arab World – unlike Iraqis were left in a state of limbo and be provided with international
Latin America and Africa – lacks legal uncertainty: neither refugees nor protection. However, group
regional instruments to provide non-refugees, faced with voluntary determination on a prima facie
protection for refugees fleeing from repatriation as the only possible basis grants refugee status to all
generalised violence and civil strife. durable solution and denied the
chance of settlement in the country
As a result, protection of refugees of asylum or in a third country.
Few Iraqis can hope
lies entirely in the hand of UNHCR. Temporary protection as conceived to be resettled.
In March 2003 the agency called by UNHCR is not limited in time,
for all Iraqi refugees (including in contrast to the European Union
rejected cases) to be included under which sets a three-year limit for the members of the group. Therefore,
‘temporary protection’ – a regime implementation of this procedure. a refugee recognised on a prima
elaborated by the international The absence of a time-frame increases facie basis should benefit from
community in order to respond to the uncertainty of this temporary the rights enshrined in the 1951
situations of large-scale displacement status and risks politicisation of the Convention unlike a refugee
and to the limitations of the 1951 protection of massively displaced under temporary protection.
Refugee Convention and the refugee persons. As a result, the temporary
definition. It is based around four protection regime of Iraqi refugees The news of prima facie
principles: admission to safety, that was initially planned for implementation came as a long-
respect for basic human rights, a period of three months was awaited Christmas present for Iraqi
protection against refoulement and maintained until the end of 2006. refugees. UNHCR offices in Beirut
36 FMR IRAQ special issue

– and in Damascus and Amman Most of these returnees were where access to health care is cheaper.
– were flooded with refugees asking arbitrarily detained for months On her way back to Lebanon, she
to receive the refugee certificate which after the expiry of their sentence. was arrested and detained by the
they believed would protect them Prolonged arbitrary detention Lebanese authorities along with her
from arrest in Lebanon and would continues to be an effective coercive new-born child and an older child.
be their ticket to travel to another policy to force the Iraqi detainees
country as part of resettlement to agree to repatriation. Most Iraqi Single men are greatly neglected. As
programmes – the only durable detainees faced with the choice of one told us: “I have not seen a doctor
solution for refugees in Lebanon. remaining indefinitely in Lebanese for the last seven years. I cannot
Around 1,800 Iraqis registered prisons or returning to Iraq chose afford to pay for a consultation.
with UNHCR between January and to return to Iraq with the intention When I go to the different UNHCR
May 2007, 50% more than for the of re-entering Lebanon illegally. implementing partners for medical
whole of 2006. UNHCR’s target by assistance, they send me back and
December 2007 is to assist and/or Returns to Iraq from the Lebanese forth between them explaining
register around 10,000 Iraqis. detention centres are financed and either that I am not an emergency
coordinated by the Iraqi Embassy in case or that I do not fall under their
Lebanon and IOM. UNHCR’s role is programme. At the end, I still have
Disillusionment limited to ensuring the repatriations not got a medical examination.”
are ‘voluntary’. An interview with
The Iraqis’ illusions were soon the Iraqi Ambassador to Lebanon
dashed as it became clear that third- in February leads us to estimate Conclusion
country resettlement would not be that around 40 to 60 persons are
available. Few Iraqis can hope to be returned to Iraq each week. No protection regime – whether it
resettled. The US has announced is individual status determination,
plans to resettle only 7,000 of the temporary protection or prima
approximately two million Iraqi Neglect of vulnerable facie recognition – can be effective
refugees in the region and the Iraqi refugees when it is solely implemented by
European Union has declared UNHCR without the involvement
opposition to resettlement of The illegal status of the Iraqi refugees of the Lebanese authorities and in
refugees in the EU – but has agreed denies them any form of protection. the absence of any national legal
to donate up to 11 million Euros for As they have no adequate assistance, framework for refugee protection
humanitarian aid in the region. they are forced to work illegally and which would guarantee the right
can readily be exploited – forced of every individual to seek asylum
Disillusionment set in after Iraqis to work long hours, denied social and to be protected against forced
realised that their prima facie refugee security and if their wages are not expulsion to a country where
status has not changed government paid have no recourse to law out his life would be threatened.
policies regarding their presence in of fear of being arrested for lack of
the country. The temporary protection papers. Access to education and The magnitude of the Iraqi refugee
regime and the recognition on health care are extremely limited. influx in the region raises fears of
prima facie basis were not formally Many Iraqi teenagers are forced to ‘Palestinisation’ of their plight for the
acknowledged by the Lebanese abandon their studies in order to international community is focusing
authorities although Lebanon is a work illegally in harsh conditions almost solely on humanitarian
member of the UNHCR Executive to provide for their families. assistance, rather than the search for
Committee and is supposed to be durable solutions. Lebanon – like
bound by its conclusions. As they There are a few NGOs trying to cover other Arab states – is understandably
were under the Saddam regime, the basic health needs of the most reluctant to improve the legal status
Iraqi refugees continue to be treated vulnerable Iraqis but their ability and living conditions of Iraqi refugees
as illegal migrants by the Lebanese to assist is limited: “My wife had for fear they will once again have to
authorities, at constant risk of complications when she gave birth carry a hosting burden which will
being arrested for illegal entry and to our son but we were sent to a carry on for decade after decade.
stay in Lebanon and sentenced to hospital that didn’t have an intensive
imprisonment and deportation. care unit. I had to take her to another Samira Trad (samiratrad@fastmail.
hospital but I didn’t have enough fm) is the director and Ghida
The Lebanese government has money to pay for it and there were Frangieh a trainee legal advisor at
often ignored UNHCR protection no ambulances to transport her and the Frontiers (Ruwad) Association
guidelines regarding Iraqi refugees the baby and give them oxygen. I (
and injunctions again non-refoulement had to go to a friend and borrow (,
and non-repatriation. Before 2003, money and then transport my wife a Beirut-based NGO promoting
hundreds of Iraqi asylum seekers in a taxi. By the time I reached the the human rights of refugees
and at time even recognised second hospital, my new-born son and migrants in Lebanon.
refugees were deported back to Iraq. had died in the taxi”, explained Hani.
1. Note on International Protection, submitted by the
After 2003, voluntary repatriation
UN High Commissioner for Refugees to the UN General
convoys were organised with the Another Iraqi woman who could Assembly, 7 September 1994
assistance of the International not afford to deliver her child in EXCOM/3f0a935f2.pdf
Organization for Migration (IOM). Lebanon was smuggled to Syria 2.