Lebanese General Security maintains arbitrary detention of Iraqi refugee against judge decision and MoI orders

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Jan 18 2010

UPDATE: UNHCR has accepted to take Yousra to her own shelters after she refused, according to her lawyer, to go back to Caritas shelters, pending a permanent solution. Caritas is held a conference on Tuesday and issued a press release to voice its view point. The main question on the 'legal status' of Yousra, when handed over to Caritas, remains unclear as Caritas Migrant Center head insisted on 'humanitarian' aspect of the case. The media remained harsh on Caritas as it has not clarified several key issues. "Legal status" is important to confirm the rule of law and the authority of the judiciary. Now, Yousra is free and ok, and hopeful all other Iraqi refugees in Lebanon.

This is the video of the press conference (in Arabic) that I took, where some the questions, including mine, were not fully answered. I was also told that there were some factual errors including that she was taken by Caritas car to UNHCR and not by taxi as Caritas head has claimed.

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The Lebanese General Security Office (GSO), the official state body in charge of entry, stay and exit of foreigners, is coming under heavy fire following its decision to maintain the arbitrary detention of Iraqi refugee Yousra El-Amiri.

On 11 December 2009, a Lebanese judge in Zahle, Cynthia Kasarji, order the immediate release of Yousra who has been arbitrarily for over 6 months, following her illegal entry to Lebanon.

Yousra fled to Lebanon with her brother in May 2009, through Syria, following the murder of their brother and her husband by armed militias. The GSO detained them on basis of illegal entry, and a Lebanese judge ordered their imprisonment for one month – a sentenced which ended on 21 June, 2009. But the GSO did not release them ever since, seeking an impossible repatriation. Her brother also remains in prison till date.

While in prison, UNHCR gave them refugee status, as they would be killed if they return to Iraq. Lebanon is not a signatory of the 1951 Refugee convention, and UNHCR is operating in Beirut and giving refugee status to Iraqis based on an Memorandum of Understanding with the GSO.

The court decision was hailed by a leading human rights activists as one of the seven most important court decisions in 2009 as it dares challenge the established illegal practice of arbitrary detention of foreigners who have finished their sentence. On the other side, the General Director of the GSO, Wafi Gezini, stated to Al-Akhbar newspaper that the judge who gave her decision “did not know what she was doing” thus dealing an unprecedented blow to the Lebanese judiciary. Omar Nashbeh, leading Lebanese journalists and advisor to the minister of interior on human rights affairs, asked in Al-Akhbar “Is this how the judiciary is strengthened and immunized as stated in the Hariri government ministerial statement?”

Al-Akhbar added that Lebanese Minister of Interior, Ziad Baroud, had issued directives ordering the implementation of the court decision immediately. But the GSO has not abided by his directives, a case of a state employee refusing to abide by the minister’s orders.

In an amazing twist in this affair, the General Security, to ease the pressure on it, declared to Al-Akhbar (Saturday 17 January, 2010) that they have decided to transfer Yousra to Caritas Migrant’s shelter. The media and the lawyer were informed that Yousra was set free on Saturday, in what seems to be a maneuver to calm down public opinion.

Effectively, Caritas Migrant Center has accepted to keep Yousra detained against a judge decision to set her free.

According to NGO sources exclusive to Migrant-Rights.org, this is not the first time Caritas shelters are used by the GSO. In principle, they are destined to be used as shelters of trafficked women. But in a previous similar case, an Iraqi woman refugee – now resettled to Sweden – was also arbitrarily detained at Caritas Migrant shelter or safe house and only set free once UNHCR got her ticket to Sweden.

Today, Monday, January 18, 2010, Caritas Migrant chauffeur took Yousra to UNHCR office and is currently seeking to bring her back to the Caritas’ detention facility. Several rights groups including Frontiers Association are demonstrating to prevent handing over of Yousra to Caritas.

Also, Caritas are organizing today a gathering at the Martyrs square in Downtown Beirut in support of the Migrant Workers in Lebanon, and a candle vigil under the theme: “Shed light on Migrants’ Rights”. Several dozens of human rights activists have decided to attend the event with banners demanding
1. The release of Yousra El-Amiri
2. To stop the use of Caritas Migrant centers are arbitrary detention facilities for the GSO
3. To end the practice of arbitrary detention by the General Security

Wissam Salibi, for Migrant-Rights.org
Author of EthiopianSuicides.blogspot.com

Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East