Thursday, 21 February 2008

Iraqi Refugees

It might seem churlish not to give credit to the government's decision to ease the plight of Iraqi refugees in Lebanon—although it doesn't go far enough. According to the Financial Times:

The authorities will soon release hundreds of Iraqis who had been detained because they are in the country illegally, said the regional director of UNHCR, Stephane Jaquemet. The UNHCR and Caritas, the Catholic aid organisation, will help them, as well as tens of thousands of other illegal Iraqi refugees, to regularise their status during a three-month grace period.

But the measures stop short of giving Iraqis special residence permits. Najla Chahda, director of Caritas’ Migrant Centre in Beirut, said that the release and the grace period offered Iraqi refugees, “a chance to feel a bit more comfortable”. She said it was the best they could hope for as long as Lebanon wasn’t prepared to offer special status for refugees.

The UNHCR will give financial assistance and try to help the refugees find employers to sponsor their presence in the country. “My main concern is that many employers will not want to get involved in this,” said Mr Jaquemet. The estimated 400 detainees that are to be released will be given priority.

Lebanon hosts an estimated 50,000 Iraqi refugees, some 80 per cent of whom are thought to be in the country illegally. The number pales in comparison to neighbouring Syria, where estimates go as high as 1.5 million refugees. Most of the Iraqis in Lebanon have illegally crossed the porous border from Syria.

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