Despite the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees' (UNHCR) request that nations not forcibly return Iraqis, Lebanon's security forces repatriated 520 Iraqi detainees during 2005. UNHCR screened 430 of the Iraqis to verify that their departure was voluntary, but the Government returned another group of 90, unscreened, in December. There were unofficial reports that Lebanon deported hundreds of Sudanese refugees during the year. In December, Lebanon deported a Sudanese refugee who had converted from Islam to Christianity – even though he could face persecution in Sudan on those grounds.
The 1962 Law on Entry and Exit prohibited refoulement and allowed foreigners to request political asylum, yet did not allow appeals. Lebanon had no refugee or asylum law, and generally treated refugees and asylum seekers as foreigners. A 1962 decree singled out Palestinian refugees as a special category of foreigners "not holding documents from their original countries and residing in Lebanon."
UNHCR conducted all refugee status determinations; however, under the terms of a 2003 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between UNHCR and the Government, applicants had to submit claims within two months of arrival. The MOU also prohibited those legally in the country from applying. Under the MOU, refugees had permission to remain in the country for one year – during which time UNHCR sought resettlement or other solutions for them; past that time, they had no protection from detention or deportation. The MOU also did not cover any refugees or asylum seekers who were in the country prior to the September 2003 signing.
Pending status determinations, the Government issued residence permits that were initially valid for 3 months and extendable by up to 12 months. Once UNHCR granted refugee status, the Government issued new six-month residence permits, which were extendable for three additional months, pending resettlement.
The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) registered most Palestinian refugees. The Government's Directorate of Affairs of the Palestinian Refugees (DAPR) issued them identity documents and registered their births, marriages, and deaths. Those Palestinians known as non-record refugees were not able to register with UNRWA, but still received documents from DAPR. A third group of around 3,000, known as "non-ID" refugees, could not register with either and were subject to arrest as illegal migrants if they left the Palestinian camps. Lebanon barred the registration of Palestinians whose families fled after 1948 or whose first country of exile was not Lebanon. Due to patrilineal record keeping by UNRWA, women whose spouses were not registered refugees could also lose their status.
Asbat al-Nur, Fatah, and other Palestinian groups frequently exchanged gunfire over control in the camps. UN Security Council resolutions 1559 and 1614 required Lebanon disarm militias and the Government took some steps during the year to isolate and restrict Palestinian weaponry.
As of July, there were about 20,000 Iraqis in Lebanon, about 9,200 of whom had arrived after the fall of the Hussein regime.
Detention/Access to Courts
The General Security forces detained about 200 Iraqis during the year but granted UNHCR access to them. Lebanon also held at least 52 recognized refugees. Lebanon held the vast majority of refugees for illegal entry, an offense for which the 1962 Law on Entry and Exit specified a one to three month imprisonment, a fine, and expulsion.
At the end of the year, Lebanon was holding more than 200 migrants, including refugees, past the expiry of their prison terms, often for more than a year. In December, authorities arrested for illegal entry an Iraqi refugee whom UNHCR had recognized in October. He did not leave prison until March 2006 – two months past the end of his sentence.
Lebanon generally allowed UNHCR access to detained refugees, but did not do so consistently – even though the MOU required the Government to notify UNHCR of detained asylum seekers. Authorities did allow local nongovernmental organizations access to detainees to provide medical and other services. UNHCR had more success than in previous years in securing the release of detainees held past the end of their sentences but if any judicial authority sanctioned detention, there was no mechanism for review by a higher court.
Early in the year, the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee visited the General Security detention center that housed most illegal migrants awaiting resettlement or deportation after completion of their prison sentence and reported that it was operating at more than twice its capacity for most of the year, with very poor sanitary conditions, and recommended closing it.
Refugees and asylum seekers generally had access to courts. Lebanon subsidized legal aid, but only to nationals of countries providing reciprocal rights to Lebanese nationals – effectively excluding Palestinians. In the camps, refugees operated an arbitrary system of tribal justice autonomous from the Government. Members of Asbat al-Nur, Fatah, and other groups that controlled particular camps reportedly detained members of rival groups arbitrarily.
Freedom of Movement and Residence
The Government confined some 300 Palestinian militants to access-controlled camps south of Beirut, and refugees and other foreigners had to obtain permission from the Internal Security Forces to visit the southern border areas formerly occupied by Israel. According to a 1957 decree, Palestinian refugees who did not reside in refugee camps could freely change their residence, but those who resided in camps had to apply for a permit before moving to other camps. The Government did not allow the construction of permanent structures in the camps and, for most of the year, did not allow camp residents to bring in building supplies to improve, expand, or repair their dilapidated, war-damaged, and overcrowded housing.
Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA could obtain travel documents valid for five years from Lebanon's General Directorate for Political Affairs and Refugees, non-record Palestinian refugees received travel documents valid for one year, and non-Palestinian refugees generally only received travel documents from countries that agreed to resettle them.
Right to Earn a Livelihood
In June, Lebanon's labor minister announced that the Government would permit Palestinians born in Lebanon (90 percent of the Palestinian population) to work in a variety of previously prohibited clerical and manual jobs. In November, however, a ministry official announced that only "two or three" refugees had done so. The permits required employer sponsors who had to accompany the refugee to the ministry to apply. Fees varied from $133 to $1,200 (L£200,000 to L£1.8 million) according to position, with employers paying 75 percent. Employers were also reluctant to participate because they would have to pay social security taxes, even though their workers were not eligible for benefits due to reciprocity requirements. Lebanon continued to ban Palestinian refugees from several professions, including medicine, law, journalism, and engineering.
Previously, Lebanon had prohibited non-Lebanese from working in more than 70 skilled professions, with no exception for refugees, and a 1964 law imposed a reciprocity condition on membership in professional syndicates – a precondition for employment in professions such as law, medicine, engineering, and journalism that also effectively excluded Palestinians. As the MOU did not include the right to work, non-Palestinian refugees had no option to work legally except by applying for permission as a foreigner. Under the legislative decree regularizing the work of foreigners in Lebanon, all foreigners required the prior authorization of the Ministry of Labor to work, authorization which the Ministry rarely granted. The law also required foreigners to be experts or professionals in a field where no Lebanese candidates were available, resident in Lebanon before 1954, or working in companies for at least nine consecutive months during the year. A foreigner could also obtain a work permit if he had been married to a Lebanese woman for at least one year, had a Lebanese mother, or was a Lebanese descendant.
Many refugees worked in the informal sector. According to a study by the Danish Refugee Council completed in July, 55 percent of Iraqis in Lebanon worked regularly, mostly in factories, despite not having work permits. According to the Labor Council for Arbitration, foreigners working without work permits could present cases before the courts, albeit at the risk of the authorities charging them with illegal residency and working illegally.
In order to practice professions, Lebanese law required minimum capital amounts and obligations to engage a certain number of Lebanese workers. Foreigners could represent foreign companies only if they had no direct contact with the public.
A 2001 amendment to Lebanon's 1969 property decree prohibited anyone not having "nationality of a recognized state" or anyone whose ownership of property is contrary to the Constitution's ban on tawtin (implantation) "to possess real rights of any nature." This effectively and deliberately excluded Palestinians from owning, bequeathing, or even registering property they were buying on installments. Those who owned property before 2001 could not pass it on to their children. Other foreigners could own limited property, subject to the approval of five district offices.
Public Relief and Education
Lebanon allowed humanitarian agencies to assist refugees. UNRWA provided primary and secondary education to UNRWA-registered Palestinian refugees, and operated an extensive system of health clinics for them. The Agency also provided public assistance to those in extreme hardship. In exceptional cases where UNRWA could not provide adequate assistance, Lebanese authorities intervened to provide relief and assistance to individual Palestinian refugees.
The MOU required UNHCR to assist Convention refugees if their need would otherwise constitute a public burden. Foreigners legally residing in Lebanon not under the mandate of international organizations could use public medical services including hospitalization, on the condition of reciprocity, except in cases of contagious illness. UNHCR covered 85 percent of the health fees for recognized refugees and Caritas subsidized insurance to non-recognized refugees.