(Beirut) - The United Arab Emirates government should allow hundreds of deported Lebanese citizens and Palestinians from Gaza an opportunity to appeal their expulsions, Human Rights Watch said in a letter today to the UAE interior minister.
The UAE has deported at least 120 Lebanese families - all of them Shiite - since June 2009 without due process, the Beirut-based Committee for Lebanese Deported told Human Rights Watch. UAE authorities have also expelled scores of Palestinians, mainly from Gaza, after cancelling their work permits, news media have reported.
"It's now been more than a year since the UAE started deporting hundreds of Lebanese and Palestinians from Gaza, and the government has yet to give any adequate justification," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "The UAE needs to provide these families, many of whom had lived in the country for decades, a chance to appeal their deportations."
Nine Lebanese deportees interviewed in Beirut by Human Rights Watch said they were arbitrarily expelled, without explanation or any opportunity for redress. Each of them said they had been long-time lawful residents of the UAE. Some had lived in the country for more than 30 years and owned homes and businesses there.
Yet, they said that starting in June 2009, the eight men and one woman each received a call from UAE immigration authorities informing them that they had to leave the country with their families. They were given only days to pack their families' belongings and depart. Several incurred substantial financial losses, as they had little time to sell property or claim payment from employers.
A 55-year-old Lebanese man told Human Rights Watch that he lost $250,000 after he was deported and unable to sell his restaurant in the UAE.
"Immigration officials told us nothing except that we have to pack and return home," said the man, who had lived in the UAE since 1978. "When I asked about the reasons, the immigration officials said they didn't know themselves and that they had received the list from [authorities in] Abu Dhabi."
Some of the deportees told Human Rights Watch that before their deportation, UAE authorities had summoned them and asked which political party they supported in Lebanon. The authorities also sought information from the people who were summoned about Hezbollah and the political affiliations of other Lebanese living in the UAE. The interrogations raise concerns that the expulsions were politically motivated, Human Rights Watch said.
A Lebanese professor who worked at the University of Sharjah told Human Rights Watch that immigration officials summoned her for an interview on June 10, 2009, three days after the Lebanese parliamentary elections. During the four-hour interrogation, an officer accused her of belonging to a Hezbollah "sleeper cell". She said her interrogator also "mocked my [Shia] religious beliefs and practices in a very callous way that was quite painful and agonizing since I could not answer back or defend myself."
On October 21, 2009, immigration officials interrogated her again, this time ordering her to leave the country immediately. She said the university still owes her a portion of her salary and other expenses.
Under international law, governments have the right to regulate the presence of foreigners within their borders. However, the process of deportation is subject to certain constraints. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, ratified by the UAE in 1974, prohibits discrimination on the basis of ethnicity or national origin. The Arab Charter for Human Rights, also ratified by the UAE, obliges governments to deport foreigners only in accordance with the law and to give deportees the opportunity to appeal their deportation order. It prohibits any form of collective expulsion.
The Lebanese government has raised the issue of the deportations with UAE authorities repeatedly over the last year. In October, the speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, Nabih Berri, traveled to the UAE and expressed his concerns directly to the president, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan. Despite reported assurances made by UAE authorities to Lebanese officials that the UAE would review each deportee's case, none of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch who had been expelled have received any further information.
The Human Rights Watch letter urges the UAE government, in light of the country's international commitments, to publicly state the steps each deported person wishing to appeal his or her expulsion order may take, specify the body that will rule on their appeals and on what basis it will do so, and suspend any deportation pending an appeal. The UAE government should also provide this information individually to each person who has been summarily deported, Human Rights Watch said.
"The UAE prides itself as a land of opportunity for Arabs from across the region, but these cases illustrate that these opportunities rest on shifting sands," Whitson said.