Lebanon, Asharq Al-Awsat- Erika Feller, The UN Deputy Commissioner for International Protection Affairs at the United Nations High Commission for Refugee Affairs (UNHCR), has revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that “Lebanon has the highest number of Iraqi detainees who are being held because of illegal entry or illegal residence and that the number is rising because of the security concerns caused by the latest events in Lebanon.
“Feller arrived in Lebanon from Syria to acquaint herself with the situation of the refugees in the country and discuss with Lebanese officials the situation of the approximately 40,000 Iraqi refugees in Lebanon.
Feller expressed her appreciation of the flexible and humanitarian approach that the Lebanese government has adopted toward the Iraqi refugees. She pointed out that “the discussions with the Lebanese officials dealt primarily with the detention of Iraqis, finding an alternative solution, and addressing the situation of the refugees.
She added that, “The Iraqi refuges have become victims twice: once in their country and once again in the countries where they have arrived.”
Feller conveyed to Lebanese Interior Minister Hasan al-Sab the UNHCR’s concern over the detention of refugees and asylum seekers, particularly the protracted detention for indefinite periods. She visited the Rumiyah Prison, the largest in Lebanon, where 400 inmates, mostly Iraqis, including a number of Sudanese and Somali nationals, are the object of the UNHCR’s concern. She pointed to “overcrowdedness” in the Rumayih Prison and to the health and psychological conditions of these detainees and their need for care, particularly because some of them are studying at universities. She said that their detention for the only reason of being illegal residents would harm their education and professional future.
Feller’s visit to Lebanon followed a three-day mission in Syria during which she met with Syrian officials and Palestinian and Iraqi refuges and UNHCR officials. She also visited the Al-Tanaf refugee camp in the no-man’s land between Syria and Iraqi where 350 Palestinian refuges have been stranded since April 2006.
Feller told Asharq Al-Awsat, “They asked me for a solution,” adding: “The number of Iraqis seeking to leave is on the rise because the situation is hard in view of what is happening in and outside Iraq. Approximately 2,000 Iraqis cross the border into Syria every day in search of a safe haven. So far, more than two million Iraqis have left Iraq and I think Iraqis will continue to leave because of the hard circumstances, turmoil, violence and religious persecution. I do not think anyone living in such circumstances can stay in Iraq. I was in Syria and saw the enormous numbers of Iraqis who have left Iraq. The number of Iraqis in Jordan and Lebanon may have stabilized, but not in Syria. It is difficult to determine the figures because we do no know where these Iraqis are staying.”