Beirut Has A Refugee Crisis That's Not About Middle East Peace

Few know the Lebanese capital has been a destination for immigrants in recent years. But now a group of Sudanese men are on a hunger strike, demanding that the UN resettle recognized refugees and grant temporary status to those waiting for their papers.

Sudanese refugees protesting in front of the UNHCR (Lebanonesia)
Sudanese refugees protesting in front of the UNHCR (Lebanonesia)
Laure Stephan

BEIRUT - "Aren't you hot?" a United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) employee asks the small group on the sidewalk. The Sudanese refugees are lying on cardboard boxes in front of the agency's headquarters in Beirut. Other bits of cardboard set on a low wall protect them from the sun, but little else can alleviate the suffocating summer heat.

Twenty-one Sudanese men have been on a hunger strike since June 11. They are demanding that the UNHCR "immediately refer for resettlement recognized refugees who fulfill the requested criteria, and fully assist in the regulation of temporary legal status in Lebanon." These men repeatedly cite a lack of transparency and the slow procedures of the UNHCR, which is both seen as a last hope and a massive bureaucratic machine.

They are all the more frustrated that in Lebanon they are in a legal no-man's land: the country hasn't ratified the 1951 Convention on refugees, which means that no legal protection is granted to those have a refugee status, who find themselves in a very vulnerable situation. They also face widespread racism.

A bureaucratic nightmare

The sit-in is a strange scene amidst the luxurious buildings of this upscale neighborhood in the Lebanese capital. Women and children join the men during the day. Mohammed, 41, says he won't leave or eat until he knows which country will be his new home. He left Khartoum for Lebanon in 2008 with his three children and his wife, and obtained refugee status in 2010.

Since then, he has been waiting, and can't understand why two years have passed without him getting the necessary papers for a new start, far from Sudan and far from Lebanon. In Beirut, Mohammed's daily life is difficult. "I don't have papers to work, I clean houses; we share an apartment with a few other families," he says.

Forty-two-year-old Fatima, who is from the Darfur region, barely speaks Arabic: she only speaks her native Fur language. She hands over a piece of paper, carefully protected in a plastic sleeve: it's the UNHCR document that proves she, her husband and children are asylum seekers. She obtained this certificate after four years of procedures, but it still doesn't give her refugee status.

Like many other Sudanese, 46-year-old Zacharia, also from Darfur, arrived in Lebanon illegally via Syria. The latter, before the current revolution and violence, was a transit country. Zacharia arrived there in 2005, paid a smuggler to cross the border and reached Beirut. He was jailed for several months for illegal presence on Lebanese territory.

In January, more than six years after his arrival, Zacharia finally obtained refugee status. He sums up the situation of his fellow countrymen in Lebanon: "If you are sick, you don't go to the hospital out of fear of arrest. So you don't get treatment." Yet medical and educational aid is granted by the UNHCR to asylum seekers and refugees.

The organization also intervenes to free foreigners placed under its protection when they are arrested by Lebanese security services. "Most of the time, we are able to get them freed," says Dana Sleimane, the UNHCR spokesperson in Beirut. This isn't enough to reassure the refugees, who dread imprisonment, or even expulsion. Case point: the police raid on the first day of their hunger strike, during which several protestors were taken in for questioning and then released.

An unwelcoming country

Mohammed talks about Lebanon, a country that doesn't want him: "Once, I wanted to go to a popular restaurant, near the sea. I had money to pay. But they didn't let me sit down. The staff asked me to leave."

According to him, the refugees from other Arab countries, like Iraqis, are in a much more enviable situation (over 11,000 people are registered as asylum seekers or refugees by the UNHCR, only 600 of them are Sudanese). "At least they aren't humiliated because of their skin color, they aren't called monkeys!" says Mohammed, who also believes that Iraqis, who get more media coverage, are favored by the UNHCR for resettlement.

Dana Sleimane denies this: "For the Sudanese refugees, we always signal that it is "urgent" when we send their files, because they are in a fragile situation in Lebanon. In Beirut, almost 20% of the refugees are resettled every year, which is one of the highest percentages for Arab countries." But the quotas put in place by host countries limit the organization's efforts, which isn't able to soften the Lebanese stance on asylum policies.

Saad Kurdi, a militant of the Movement Against Racism in Lebanon, visits the protestors every evening to show his support and ask about their health. He wishes that the "UNHCR, even if it can't guarantee a future for the refugees in another country, would make it possible for them to live a peaceful life in Lebanon."

Read more from Le Monde in French.

Photo - Lebanonesia

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Protests against gasoline price hikes in Lebanon

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Wai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where leaked documents show how some countries are lobbying to change a key report on climate change, Moscow announces new full lockdown and the world's first robot artist is arrested over spying allegations. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt looks at the rapprochement between two leaders currently at odds with Europe: UK's BoJo and Turkey's Erdogan.

[*Bodo - India, Nepal and Bengal]


• Documents reveal countries lobbying against climate action: Leaked documents have revealed that some of the world's biggest fossil fuel and meat producing countries, including Australia, Japan and Saudi Arabia, are trying to water down a UN scientific report on climate change and pushing back on its recommendations for action, less than one month before the COP26 climate summit.

• COVID update: The city of Moscow plans to reintroduce lockdown measures next week, closing nearly all shops, bars and restaurants, after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a nationwide seven-day workplace shutdown from Oct. 30 to combat the country's record surge in coronavirus cases and deaths. Meanwhile, India has crossed the 1 billion vaccinations milestone.

• India and Nepal floods death toll passes 180: Devastating floods in Nepal and the two Indian states of Uttarakhand and Kerala have killed at least 180 people, following record-breaking rainfall.

• Barbados elects first ever president: Governor general Dame Sandra Mason has been elected as Barbados' first president as the Caribbean island prepares to become a republic after voting to remove Queen Elizabeth II as head of state.

• Trump to launch social media platform: After being banned from several social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter, former U.S. President Donald Trump announced he would launch his own app called TRUTH Social in a bid "to fight back against Big Tech." The app is scheduled for release early next year.

• Human remains found in hunt for Gabby Petito's fiance: Suspected human remains and items belonging to Brian Laundrie were found in a Florida park, more than one month after his disappearance. Laundrie was a person of interest in the murder of his fiancee Gabby Petito, who was found dead by strangulation last month.

• Artist robot detained in Egypt over spying fear: Ai-Da, the world's ultra-realistic robot artist, was detained for 10 days by authorities in Egypt where it was due to present its latest art works, over fears the robot was part of an espionage plot. Ai-Da was eventually cleared through customs, hours before the exhibition was due to start.


"Nine crimes and a tragedy," titles Brazilian daily Extra, after a report from Brazil's Senate concluded that President Jair Bolsonaro and his government had failed to act quickly to stop the deadly coronavirus pandemic, accusing them of crimes against humanity.


Erdogan and Boris Johnson: A new global power duo?

As Turkey fears the EU closing ranks over defense, Turkish President Erdogan is looking to Boris Johnson as a post-Brexit ally, especially as Angela Merkel steps aside. This could undermine the deal where Ankara limits refugee entry into Europe, and other dossiers too, write Carolina Drüten and Gregor Schwung in German daily Die Welt.

🇹🇷🇬🇧 According to the Elysée Palace, the French presidency "can't understand" why Turkey would overreact, since the defense pact that France recently signed in Paris with Greece is not aimed at Ankara. Although Paris denies this, it is difficult to see the agreement as anything other than a message, perhaps even a provocation, targeted at Turkey. The country has long felt left out in the cold, at odds with the European Union over a number of issues. Yet now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is setting his sights on another country, which also wants to become more independent from Europe: the UK.

⚠️ Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel always argued for closer collaboration with Turkey. She never supported French President Emmanuel Macron's ideas about greater strategic autonomy for countries within the EU. But now that she's leaving office, Macron is keen to make the most of the power vacuum Merkel will leave behind. The prospect of France's growing influence is "not especially good news for Turkey," says Ian Lesser, vice president of the think tank German Marshall Fund.

🤝 At the UN summit in September, Erdogan had a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the recently opened Turkish House in New York. Kalin says it was a "very good meeting" and that the two countries are "closely allied strategic partners." He says they plan to work together more closely on trade, but with a particular focus on defense. The groundwork for collaboration was already in place. Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU, and gave an ultimate proof of friendship after the failed coup in 2016.

➡️


"He has fought tirelessly against the corruption of Vladimir Putin's regime. This cost him his liberty and nearly his life."

— David Sassoli, president of the European Parliament, wrote on Twitter, following the announcement that imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was awarded the 2021 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the European Union's highest tribute to human rights defenders. Navalny, who survived a poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin, is praised for his "immense personal bravery" in fighting Putin's regime. The European Parliament called for his immediate release from jail, as Russian authorities opened a new criminal case against the activist that could see him stay in jail for another decade.



Chinese video platform Youku is under fire after announcing it is launching a new variety show called in Mandarin Squid's Victory (Yóuyú de shènglì) on social media, through a poster that also bears striking similarities with the visual identity of Netflix's current South Korean hit series Squid Game. Youku apologized by saying it was just a "draft" poster.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Anyone want to guess Trump's first post on his upcoming social media platform...? Let us know how the news look in your corner of the world — drop us a note at!

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