Op-ed on UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants
Worldwide displacement from conflict and persecution has hit all-time high with some 60 million people seeking refuge after having to leave their homes—the largest number since the end of World War II. Half of the world’s refugees are children.
The Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) works on a daily basis with refugees and migrants living in the country in order to preserve their basic human rights. CLDH defends people who are fleeing war and persecution and advocates for the respect of refugees’ rights not be forcibly returned to oppression, torture, or death and their right to seek asylum in any country they enter.
Since the war sparked in Syria five years ago, Lebanon has been hosting increasing numbers of refugees, reaching a sheer volume of around 1million. In total contradiction with the International standards, Syrians are considered “displaced”, not entitled any protection from the Lebanese Government and are exposed to intensified human rights violations.
In addition to the refugees’ presence onto the Lebanese soil, over 250,000 migrant workers live in the country under the Kafala system, that encloses them into slavery depriving them from their basic rights and freedoms.
Given the scale of the phenomenon at local and international levels – and following the high-level Summit organized by the General Assembly of the United Nations – CLDH regretted that the first drafts of the political declaration and its Annexes – namely the “Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework” and “Towards a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration”, did not point the way towards a comprehensive response to the crisis. Although the main issues are tackled, the frameworks proposed for adoption do not provide for introduction of standards, objectives to measure the commitments of signatory states, nor formulated obligations of any kind.
The United Nations should also be very careful in clearly distinguishing between refugees and migrants. European countries already misused both terms to facilitate their migration policies. Such two different categories should be addressed separately to better respond to their specific issues. Besides, internally displaced persons (IDPs) are at no point mentioned in the agenda of this conference. IDPs should also be granted protection under the scope of large movement of population.
Following in bullet form are the definitions for such different categories:
- Refugee: A person outside his or her home country who is unwilling or unable to return due to a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
- Asylum seeker: A person who enters a country and seeks a ruling that he or she is a refugee. Until that claim is examined fairly, the asylum seeker is entitled not to be deported and to benefit from humane treatment.
- Migrant: A broad, inclusive term that is not defined in international law. It can describe any foreigner entering, residing in, or leaving a country for any reason, including refugees or non-refugees.
- Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs): People displaced within their own country for reasons beyond their control such as persecution, war, or natural disaster.
The Lebanese Center for Human Rights urges the United Nations General Assembly, as well as state representatives, to include the following commitments to address large movements of refugees and migrants:
- Prevent and oppose political fear mongering about refugees.
- Include standards for assistance and a methodology on how to process refugees and migrants’ flows, respectful of their rights and ensuring better reception and support to their needs. A monitoring instrument, allowing the measurement of the performance of each signatory state should be established in this regard.
- Overcome the contradiction in international law that people have the right to flee their country and not to be returned to persecution but no right to enter another country.
- Set out an accountability system for any sources of funding: international donors must require counterpart to improve the human rights situation. Hosting states receiving financial support from third countries should be evaluated on the effort provided to vulnerable population according to yearly objectives, and establish a conditionality system.
- Respect basic human rights and dignity of refugees and migrants across the world by signing, ratifying and implementing the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and members of their family.
CLDH takes this opportunity to call the Lebanese government to develop a comprehensive asylum strategy focusing on refugees’ rights, starting by not forcibly returning anyone at the front lines. Lebanon must work on a clear legal framework that can uphold the principle of non-refoulement and address safety concerns.
 ILO Lebanon report