1. Home
  2. Middle East and North Africa
  3. Lebanon

Iraqi refugees face prison and deportation

[Lebanon] Dozens of Iraqis who have been evacuated from Lebanonm require urgent assistance. [Date picture taken: 07/31/2006]
UNHCR says there are about 50,000 Iraqi refugees in Lebanon (Afif Sarhan/IRIN)

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) puts the number of Iraqi refugees in Lebanon at 50,000 people, of whom only 8,476 are registered. Another 500 are being held in prison, it says, merely for violating immigration rules.

“This is a question of human rights,” said UNHCR regional representative Stéphane Jaquemet.

Having not signed the UN’s Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, introduced in 1951, Lebanon does not grant asylum to refugees, despite the presence on its territory of more than 400,000 Palestinians.

The overwhelming majority of Iraqi refugees and asylum seekers - 95 percent according to UNHCR figures - are smuggled into Lebanon across the porous border with Syria. Once inside, such Iraqis have no legal status, and lacking protection under international law, are subject to detention and deportation.

“Over 500 asylum seekers and Iraqi refugees are being held in Lebanese prisons,” Jaquemet said. Despite Lebanon’s failure to sign the 1951 convention, authorities still have a duty of care towards Iraqi asylum seekers, he added.

An agreement has been reached between the UNHCR and the government that makes deporting Iraqi refugees more difficult. However, Jaquemet said that in response the authorities were keeping Iraqis arrested on immigration violation charges in prison well past their sentences.

Arbitrary detention

“We are in no way asking that Iraqi refugees be integrated, but keeping refugees in detention after their time is done, only because they cannot be deported, is arbitrary detention,” said Jaquemet.

''Over 500 asylum seekers and Iraqi refugees are being held in Lebanese prisons.''

The UNHCR argues for voluntary repatriation as the preferred solution to Lebanon’s Iraqi refugees, but recognises that will not happen soon.

“Will Iraqi refugees be out of the country in three months? I don’t think so,” said Jaquemet. “But they will not stay for three generations. I do not believe in the catastrophic scenario, or the brighter one.”

The number of refugees signed up with the UNHCR is 8,476 as of early October, against 3,000 in January. Nearly 1,800 are children.

However, Iraqi children are unlikely to attend school as they are sent to work in menial jobs by their parents who believe children are less likely than adults to get caught without official papers, said Jaquemet.

As with Palestinians, refugees in Lebanon find it almost impossible to gain fully legal employment. That would require a Lebanese sponsor who agrees to be legally responsible for them and to pay about US$2,000 a year in administration fees.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

Share this article
Join the discussion

It was The New Humanitarian’s investigation with the Thomson Reuters Foundation that uncovered sexual abuse by aid workers during the Ebola response in the Democratic Republic of Congo and led the World Health Organization to launch an independent review and reform its practices.

This demonstrates the important impact that our journalism can have. 

But this won’t be the last case of aid worker sex abuse. This also won’t be the last time the aid sector has to ask itself difficult questions about why justice for victims of sexual abuse and exploitation has been sorely lacking. 

We’re already working on our next investigation, but reporting like this takes months, sometimes years, and can’t be done alone.

The support of our readers and donors helps keep our journalism free and accessible for all. Donations mean we can keep holding power in the aid sector accountable, and shine a light on similar abuses. 

Become a member today and support independent journalism

Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.