On June 12, a number of Sudanese refugees in Lebanon started a hunger strike in front of the UNHCR building in Jnah, Beirut. The refugees and their families, a total of around 250 persons, have been awaiting on the margins of legality in Lebanon for many years. We interviewed the men who are camped out in front of UNHCR for the 3rd night in a row and learned the following from them – all of which is documented with factual evidence from different cases. The demands of the hunger strike are:
- Transferring refugees to the resettlement countries as soon as possible.
- Determining individuals’ refugee status immediately.
- Re-opening the refugees’ closed files
- Transferring individuals’ certificate status into refugee status immediately.
UNHCR is a UN agency budgeted with over 12 million USD in Lebanon and tasked with humanitarian and legal assistance to refugees seeking asylum as a result of war or other crises. So far, their work with the Sudanese community has been shockingly below par. Individuals who have opened files with UNHCR have been made to wait many years beyond the standard time frame of one year. They have been living in Lebanon without proper documentation, subject to random police arrests and imprisonment, and without any possibility of decent livelihood. The Makhzoumi Foundation was sub-contracted by the UNHCR in 2011 to provide financial, medical, and social assistance to the refugees and has also failed to tend to the basic human needs of the families. Stories are abundant about refugees who’ve been denied medical assistance, monthly allowances, and follow-up on their status and files in Lebanon.
The refugee community has protested many times and their calls for their rights have fallen upon deaf ears. Many of their Sudanese friends are currently in jail in Adlieh for lack of paperwork, which is the fault of the UNHCR’s slow work. They see no choice but to go on hunger strike to fight for their human dignity and that of their families. The police are choking their presence, forbidding them from even putting up an umbrella to shade them from the hot summer sun. Mainstream media is giving them very little coverage and attention.
We must act immediately in solidarity and here is what you can do:
- Visit the hunger strike in Jnah – it’s right behind Spinneys facing the UNHCR building on the street. Go anytime, day or night. Listen to the stories yourself.
- Bring the hunger strike to the attention of the international human rights community. Let UNHCR global office and the High Commissioner, Antonio Gueterres, know what is going on in Lebanon.
- Spread the word on social media by tagging @refugees, the official account of UNHCR and hashtagging #UNHCR. Post on their Facebook page.
- Write an email to the staff at UNHCR in Jnah on email@example.com or call them on +961 1 849201 expressing your concern.
- June 20 is World Refugee Day and for the occasion, UNHCR in Lebanon is organizing a film festival at Metropolis Sofil from June 25-29 at Beirut’s Cinema Sofil and Roadster Diner, will feature images from UNHCR’s “Dilemmas” campaign on its food trays. If they have not responded to the Sudanese refugees’ demands by then, we will take action in front of their film festival and urge Roadster Diner to cancel their awareness campaign. Tell @roadsterdiner from now not to accept UNHCR’s ironic campaign to put messages on food trays while a dozen people are on hunger strike outside their offices!
We await an official statement from UNHCR on their response and have received none to date. Let’s exert some pressure immediately!
P.S. Sorry for the low-quality photos, I was only able to go late at night. If someone can go during the day and take good photos, it would be very helpful.