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Twenty-one refugees from the Sudanese community have started a hunger strike in front of the UNHCR premises in Beirut since the morning of Monday, June 11, 2012.
The refugees and asylum seekers are on strike at the doors of UNHCR alongside their families, wives and children who join them in the mornings.The situation of refugees and asylum seekers in Lebanon, especially that of Sudanese, is particularly deplorable: men and women have difficulties in finding work that would allow a decent pay, given that they don’t have any legal stay permit. Asylum seekers’ children are not allowed to pursue their education and when they do, even with the UNHCR refugee status (that is issued with a certain deadline that has no legal grounds in Lebanon), Sudanese are always at risk of arbitrary detention and illegal deportation to their country of origin. Moreover, Sudanese asylum seekers and refugees underlined the constant discrimination they face in NGOs vis-a-vis other nationalities of refugees such as Iraqis.
A few hours following the start of the strike, a police patrol arrived to the location and detained everyone for a period of 6 hours in Ramleh El Bayda police station. They were first given contradictory measures, starting with the prohibition of striking in front of UNHCR - Beirut office, to the final authorization of their presence under certain conditions (such as forbidding mattresses or sun-blocking umbrellas). The police had allegedly received a call from UNHCR - Beirut office in order to shut off the strike.
The second day, in the first local newspaper article on the strike, the media spokesperson of the UNHCR is quoted saying: they do not know about this strike and they did not tell the police but probably a random police patrol was passing and arrested everyone. Rather than safeguarding the rights and dignity of the refugees, UNHCR- Beirut opts to calling the police to arrest them and move them far and away from the building.
The Sudanese community is fed up with the continuously deteriorating situation that they are living under. It is important to note that this hunger strike comes after many previous demonstrations (at least 3 in 2011) that were held in front of UNHCR, which ended with false promises of changes that never saw the light.This hunger strike is also accompanied by a parallel hunger strike by Sudanese refugees in Lebanese prisons.
Their main demands are that UNHCR:
- Holds itself fully responsible toward people who are registered with the Agency as refugees and asylum seekers, in Lebanon and grant all their rights as per the rules and regulations of the agency.
- Speed up the refugee status determination process for each individual claimant’s file. This crucial procedure has been stalled for many years now.
- Immediately refer for resettlement recognized refugees who fulfill the requested criteria, and fully assist in the regulation of temporary legal status in Lebanon.
- Immediately stop cooperation with Makhzoumi foundation, which has been tasked with handling all aid processes to refugees in spite of their racist attitudes.
- Provide adequate financial assistance to cover all needs of refugee children with disabilities, especially with regards to medication and education.
- Allow asylum seekers detainees to be legally represented during the refugee determination process carried out in detention.
- Assign immediately a defense lawyer for each asylum seeker/refugee when arrested on grounds of illegal entry/stay or violation of a deportation order.
- Condemn the Lebanese State publicly when a refugee or asylum seeker is deported even under the pretense of “voluntary return".
- Ensure that all detained refugees and asylum seekers are receiving adequate medical treatment and other socio-economic assistance.
Throughout the past 9 days, there was no serious response, if any, from anyone in the Beirut office towards the refugees striking at their same building entrance. They have been totally ignored.