Human Rights Watch wrote a letter to General Siham Harake highlighting a few areas of concern related to the protection of Iraqis in Lebanon.

We are writing to thank you for meeting with us in December at the time of the release of our report on Iraqi refugees in Lebanon and to welcome the decision of the Directorate General of General Security to release Iraqi refugees from detention as part of the regularization of the status of foreign nationals in Lebanon. We welcome the release of 13 Iraqi detainees on Friday, February 29; we hope that hundreds more will be released soon and that the authorities will facilitate the process for the Iraqis to regularize their status, since it is still unsafe for them to go home.

While we recognize that the Lebanese authorities have taken this decision under difficult circumstances in Lebanon, we hope to highlight a few additional areas of concern that we hope you will consider in order to help protect Iraqis in Lebanon more fully.

First, we understand that the regularization period will not apply to Iraqis who entered Lebanon on a tourist visa and then overstayed their visa, or to Iraqis arrested since February 16, 2008. We hope that the appropriate authorities will rectify this by extending the opportunity to such Iraqis to regularize their status since they also face a real danger if they return to Iraq.

Second, we urge the Lebanese government to provide a simpler and more generous process to Iraqis for obtaining residency permits that does not require payment of large fees and is not dependent on a work permit and employer deposits. In the past, the high fees required for the work and residency permits have prevented many Iraqis from regularizing their status. We fear that if these fees are not lowered, then very few of them will be able to regularize their status within the three-month period contemplated by General Security.

Third, we have learned that the authorities are still arresting Iraqis for illegal presence. Over the last week alone, we heard about three new arrests of Iraqis. We urge you to issue a directive to General Security not to arrest Iraqis solely for their illegal entry or presence. The continued arrests of Iraqis will defeat the purpose of the regularization scheme by discouraging Iraqis from coming forward and by undermining Lebanese efforts to help Iraqis.

Again, we welcome the decision of the government of Lebanon to allow Iraqis to regularize their status. We hope that you will be able to take the measures needed to make regularization an achievable goal for Iraqis in Lebanon. While we appreciate any ad hoc measures that provide protection from arrest and deportation, as well as work authorization, we remain convinced that the best approach would be for Lebanon to ratify the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol and to adopt implementing laws and regulations that would enable your government to provide asylum to the persecuted.

As ever, we call on the international community, and in particular the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries engaged in the war in Iraq, to provide generous and substantial support to Lebanon through financial and technical assistance and refugee resettlement. The refugee burden is a shared international responsibility.

We would like to thank you for considering these recommendations and hope that you will be able to release Iraqis from detention as soon as possible.

Sincerely,

Bill Frelick
Refugee Policy Director

Joe Stork
MENA Division Director