Lebanon Escalates its Denial of Civil Rights for Palestinian Refugees

Ain el Hilweh Palestinian camp, Lebanon

In Lebanon today, Palestinians are being threatened by the government that ISIS (Daesh) and Al Nursa are plotting to take over Ain el Helweh and the other 11 camps.

Palestinian factions and the residents of the Ain el Hilweh Palestinian camp in Saida Lebanon know very well that militant jihadist groups including ISIS (Daesh) and Al Nusra are now deeply implanted in their midst and that both are working to seize control of their camp as well as Burj el-Barajneh, 1948, El Buss, 1949 Nahr al-Bared 1949, Shatila, 1948, Wavel 1952, Mar Elias, 1954, Mieh Mieh, 1955, Beddawi 1955, Burj el-Shemali 1956, Dbayeh  and, Rashidieh 1963.

One jihadist activist with whom this observer has had long and sometimes contentious discussions is Imad Yassine of ISIS, including separate discussions with a representative of the pro Nusra Front group and its many camps allies led by Haitham al Shaabi.

The same “government” that systematically deprives Palestinian refugees in Lebanon of virtually all internationally mandated civil rights described below is today (7/14/2015) shrieking a la Chicken Little that the sky is falling and that “the terrorists are trying to turn the camps into a time bomb that might explode any moment.” Politicians here are also threatening that “it will lead to severe repercussions for the camp’s residents, who will be the first casualty of the plots of these groups.” The political establishment wails: “It is totally unacceptable to turn Ain el Hilweh and other camps into hubs for terrorism that might spread to blow up entire Lebanon.”

This observer does not know of one ten year old Palestinian refugee who takes seriously these hysterics. Yet it is likely that if Lebanon continues to deprive Palestinian refugees of internationally mandated civil rights that the camps will seek redress elsewhere. And they will have the support of most people of goodwill.

Nearly seven decades after the 1948 Nakba, Lebanon is increasingly depriving Palestinian refugees of elementary, internationally guaranteed civil rights. And at an accelerating pace. Unfortunately, few if any of its gentrifying and currently intensely sectarianized political class, several of whom this observer has recently interviewed or communicated with, exhibit serious interest in bucking this trend.

In addition to Palestinian refugees being denied the elementary civil right to work and to own a home, the only refugees on earth so deprived, Lebanon in massive violation of international humanitarian law, is now blocking even more civil rights.

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Shatila Palestinian camp, Beirut. Photo: fplamb

The growing list of violations of Palestinian civil rights in Lebanon includes, but is not limited to, the following.

Increased discrimination against Palestinian refugee women in Lebanon

Lebanon’s law which outlaws the granting of citizenship to a Palestinian refugee woman married to a Lebanese is being expanded. This constitutes a direct violation of international humanitarian law which binds Lebanon. It also violates Lebanon’s National Law Article 5 as amended in 1960 which requires that “the foreign women married to a Lebanese become Lebanese one year after registration of the marriage in the civil registration system upon her request”. In 2010 Lebanon’s government falsely claimed it corrected this injustice. It did not. Nor did it, in violation of international law, take any step to end all kinds of discriminations against women in Lebanon. This egregious denial of civil rights for Palestinian and Lebanese women risks US and international sanctions against Lebanon while making a mockery the claim that Lebanon is a Democracy.
The government of Lebanon has also recently intensified its refusal to allow Palestinian refugee women in Lebanon the civil right to give their children any legal status whatsoever. Palestinian refugee women married to a foreigner are also blocked from the right to give free residency permits to their children, as Lebanese women are able to do. In addition, Palestinian refugee woman are prevented from giving their husbands an annual foreign residence permit. A campaign has recently intensified preventing the parents of newborn Palestinian refugee children, from even registering their births or acquiring any ID documents. This refusal directly violates International Law which requires the children’s status also as refugees. This illegality blocks Palestinian newborns from having legal personality and consequently condemns them to beginning their lives here in Lebanon as outlaws. They are fated to be heavily shackled when they seek to participate in normal activities such as education, receiving health care, traveling inside and outside of Lebanon and much more.

Lebanese law egregiously discriminates against women in general. It also bars Lebanese women from giving citizenship to their children. With respect to Palestinian refugees, UNRWA , the agency of the UN whose mandate is Palestinian refugees, has repeatedly petitioned Lebanon that the UN and international humanitarian law requires it to implement human rights standards. UNWRA’s pleas continue to fall on deaf ears and registered Palestinian refugee women are systematically deprived of any possibility of registering their children under their name, so children whose mother is married to a Non-ID Palestinian, for example, are deprived from being registered at all-even by UNWRA.

In flagrant violation of international humanitarian law, including the 1951 Refugee Convention which binds Lebanon via International Customary Law, the government of Lebanon is systematically outlawing the right of the nearly 80,000 Palestinian refugees from Syria to be granted the internationally mandated legal status of refugees. In an attempt to subvert international law and increase its marginalization of Palestinians, Lebanese government regulatory measures dated 31/12/2014 failed to grant wives of Palestinian refugees from Syria the right to allow her husband and children, who are Palestinian Refugees in Syria, to enter Lebanon.

Lebanon’s government labels them as tourists subjecting them to nearly impossible to comply with “legal procedures” to enter or remain in Lebanon by requiring paid residency permits. This illegal requirement obtained until August 2014 when the government of Lebanon further violated Palestinian rights and enacted a “No Stay” edict toward the Palestinian refugees from Syria. Lebanon enacted a residency permit requirement, while at the same time blocking-the renewal of residency permits. This illegal action, in addition to Kafkaesque entry procedures, has now rendered illegal most Palestinian refugees from Syria who were forced to flee to Lebanon for their lives.

At the same time Lebanon is now subjecting Palestinian refugees from Syria to arrest and prosecution on site. Lebanon’s Parliament does not consider Palestinian refugees from Syria as refugees escaping civil war and treats them more harshly even than Syrian refugees, who are themselves erroneously and cynically labeled as “displaced” in Lebanon.

Recently, Lebanon has been intensifying its deprivation of internal freedom of movement to Palestinian refugees in Lebanon making it effectively unlawful to even change residences. Of the 12 Palestinian refugee camps and 24 gatherings, more than half are now fenced with barbwire and/or military checkpoints. This smothering tactic hinders the freedom of movement of Palestinians living inside the camps and gatherings. These restrictions add massive psychological pressure on refugees especially in light of them being denied the elementary civil right to work or to own a home. As of July 2016 checkpoints continue to be tightened also around the Hezbollah controlled southern suburbs of Beirut camps and also at camp entrances in north Lebanon, targeting Bedawi and Nahr al Bared camps.

Violations of international standards for Travel Documents.

Over the past few years, the Lebanese government has been intensifying its discrimination against Palestinian refugee travel documents in direct violation of international standards. It now issues Palestinian refugees punitive travel documents which are not machine-readable and do not meet international standards, as compared to Lebanese passports. Consequently Palestinian refugee travel documents are now being rejected by most countries, preventing the issuance of visas.

To compound the problem, Lebanon discriminates among different Palestinian refugee categories. It grants Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA travel documents for five years as opposed to one year for those who are not and cannot register with UNRWA for various reasons. This limits their chances of having a long term visa and thus negatively affects their chances to live, work and learn outside Lebanon.

Increased government restrictions on Freedom of Movement for Palestinians

Over the past few years Lebanon has intensified its illegal restrictions on the right of freedom of movement for Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon’s 12 camps and 24 gatherings. Claiming “Security Procedures” it has curtailed the number of camps’ entrances and exits. Military checkpoints increasingly restrict the right to freedom of movement putting yet more pressure on the camp inhabitants. Camp residents are ordered to register their entry and exit at night, and sometimes at daytime. Often camp residents are forced to wait for long periods, preventing them from being on time for work and generally hindering their mobility. These restrictions risk people’s lives in times of internal military tension or clashes.

Since 2011 when the Syrian civil war began, the government of Lebanon has worked to prevent Palestinian refugees from Syria from living anything remotely like a normal refugee’s life. It has done so by enacting various blatantly illegal measures. These include but are not limited to the following: physical and verbal abuse, humiliations in various forms,, physical violence, intimidation and forcing them return (refoulement) to a war zone from which they fled for their families lives. There are many recorded cases of immigration officials at Syria-Lebanon border crossing at Masnaa allowing some family member in but barring others thus splitting up families in violation of international humanitarian law. As noted above, a government decree dated 31/12/2014, ignores the suffering of Palestinian refugees from Syria by not even recognizing them as war refugees. It leaves them also exposed to the psychology and prejudices of personal on duty at border control crossings.

In addition, the government of Lebanon has recently intensified its violations of the international humanitarian law requirement of the right to freedom of movement for Palestinians from Syria by failing to protect them from inhumane and degrading treatment including verbal and physical violence, arbitrary detention, harassment at entrances to camps, and curfews targeting Palestinians from Syria in certain municipalities, some known for their historic intense animosity toward Palestinians.

Increased deprivation of Refugee Housing

The government of Lebanon continues depriving Palestinians of adequate housing. Inside the 12 camps, the very limited living space areas have not been enlarged during the past more than half a century whereas the camp population has nearly quadrupled. In many areas of the camps, sunlight is blocked and massive overcrowding cuts off ventilation. These results in high humidity indoors and many respiratory and related diseases. The narrow alley structure, the non-existence of public green areas or spaces for entertainment and the deteriorated infrastructure subject the social and security environment in the camps to breakdown. The spreading diseases create social problems, loss of human dignity and in many cases eliminate family privacy. Increasingly the camps suffer poor inadequate infrastructure for drinking water and sewage. High humidity, leakage, poor ventilation, and piled garbage near to the houses, there is increasingly an unhealthy environment with cases of serious thoracic and chronic diseases ever rising.

It has been almost a decade since the destruction of Nahr Al-Bared camp and the displacement of 4867 Palestinian families. Despite promises of rebuilding the camp allowing for the families to return two thirds of the camp is still rubble. As of July 2016 only 1321 persons have returned they are still squeezed into containers as “temporary” homes. In winters the metal containers are frozen below 0 degrees Centigrade while in summer they become nearly uninhabitable “ovens”.

The Government of Lebanon is obliged, by international humanitarian law to help ease these conditions. But in reality the government of Lebanon is compounding the inhuman camp conditions by outlawing the entry of construction materials, tools and sanitation supplies into the camps. Lebanese politicians increasingly consider Palestinian refugees solely as a security problem. For example, even to be allowed to repair camp sewage lines, Lebanon’s Army Intelligence (Deuxime Bureau) which led the post-1982 reign of terror against Palestinians (who were instantly stripped of the protection of the PLO when its leadership departed in August of 1982) must give its approval. These procedures largely block Palestinian refugee from repairing their houses, some of which have collapsed. Absence of support for the camps from neighboring municipalities to help repair the infrastructure is also causing the weakening the water and sanitation services and electricity.

Depriving Palestinian refugees displaced by Syria’s civil war of basic shelter

Unlike other countries in the region, the Lebanese Government does not recognize Palestinians who fled for their lives from Syria as refugees in violation of virtually all principles, standards and rules of international law. Consequently approximately 50% are living rough in various ‘gatherings’ without any protection from the government and are sometimes subjected to abuse by land owners, municipalities’ with randomly imposed ‘regulations’ as well as racist behavior of some residents of the area. Others are forced to crowd into Palestinian camps, which are already massively overpopulated with poor and ever deteriorating infrastructure while blocked from any judicial recourse or remedy. All in violation of the 1951 Refugee law which binds Lebanon based on international customary law.

Lebanon is now preventing Palestinian refugees from Syria who lost their identification documents due to civil war from seeking safety in Lebanon while at the same time prosecuting Palestinians from Syria who have entered Lebanon “illegally.”

Lebanon deprives Palestinian refugees of the basic rights to public health services.

The Government of Lebanon deprives Palestinian refugees from Ministry of Public Health services including free hospitalization, drugs for chronic and even emergency medical services. This constitutes egregious rejection of its responsibilities as a refugee host country.

In addition, Lebanon discriminates against disabled Palestinian refugees denying them the rights of disabled Lebanese. This despite the fact that Lebanese law 220/2000 does not exclude the Palestinian refugees from the laws definition of “Disabled person” by limiting the services to only “Disabled Lebanese.”

The Government of Lebanon increasingly deprives Palestinian refugees of due process if they are accused of an infraction.

For example, Lebanon bizarrely does not differentiate among various types of crimes with respect to Palestinian refugees who are arrested and prosecuted. This illegal practice completely abrogates internationally required due process of law for Palestinians in this country. Lebanon employs informants and suspicion to arrest Palestinian refugees, usually by intelligence agencies and often in violation of Lebanon law. Rather than conducting investigations and summoning the suspect for interrogation, Lebanon treats the refugees as convicted until proven innocent. Lebanon increasingly prevents even family communication and routinely employs assault, coercion and intimidation during interrogation of Palestinian refugees while frequently failing to allow legal counsel for the accused to defend the often fake charges.

Typically, following interrogation in a “security intelligence way” the Palestinian refugee is transferred to the competent authority. As for the detention duration without trial, Lebanon ignores international standards and employs no timeframe for trial. As an example, since 2007 Lebanese authorities have been arbitrarily holding Nahr al Bared detainees, without trial. Many not charged with a crime. These kinds of abuses shatter any pretense of Lebanon having a legitimate criminal legal system with respect to Palestinian refugees.

Lebanon is guilty of Refoulment, forcing Palestinian refugees back into Syria’s civil war

One of many examples of how Lebanese authorities routinely violate the civil rights of Palestinian refugees occurred at Beirut’s International Airport on May 3 of 2014. By coincidence, this observer, who currently lives near the airport, was present to meet an arriving friend.

What happened was that in violation of all international and humanitarian norms, and international treaties and conventions that Lebanon has signed and agreed upon Lebanese security authorities arrested 49 refugees from Syria, mostly Palestinians, among them women and children, while trying to travel using fake visas heading to an Arab country, and after referring to Public Prosecution Discriminatory, they were transported to court on order of Lebanon’s General Security. Obviously it’s the right of the Lebanese government to arrest anyone carrying a fake visa, but without due process they were rapidly taken to Public Prosecution during the weekend when the courts and La Maison des Avocats were closed. The detainees were forced back to Syria within 24 hours. Any pretense of employing minimal due process would have required that the detainees be taken to a detention center until until Monday morning, to be brought before a public prosecutor, who might refer them to an investigating judge and then to the court for a trial, As it turned out, the refugees were victims of a scam, which would imply an investigation to uncover the perpetrator of the fraud. Instead, as happens in countless cases involving Palestinian refugees, Lebanon punished the victims, who were victims again also of arbitrary exile and Lebanese officials denying them a due process humanitarian trial.

An excellent report prepared by a coalition of organizations of civil society, including the Palestine Human Rights Organization (PHR0) working within Palestinian refugee communities in Lebanon identified additional examples of internationally mandated civil rights of Palestinian refugees being increasingly violated by the Lebanese government. These include, but are not limited to, blocking Palestinian women from seeking justice in competent Courts as opposed to camp ‘popular committee” notions of justice thus depriving Palestinian women of protection and enjoyment of their civil rights, turning a blind eye to forced marriage of girls and sexual abuse, allowing the involvement of children in regional armed conflicts, failing to act on complaints that document human trafficking of Palestinian women and children, denying Palestinian refugees the right to free opinion and expression, denying Palestinian refugees the right to freedom of association or to even form or join associations.

The justice for Palestine struggle continues on many fronts and it must and will do until the human right of Full Return is achieved. One front that requires our vigilance and action in this turbulent times are the ever deteriorating civil rights of Palestinians in Lebanon.

Franklin Lamb volunteers with the Lebanon, France, and USA based Meals for Syrian Refugee Children Lebanon (MSRCL) which seeks to provide hot nutritional meals to Syrian and other refugee children in Lebanon. http://mealsforsyrianrefugeechildrenlebanon.com. He is reachable c/o fplamb@gmail.com.