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WikiLeaks: 2008-07-01: 08BEIRUT952: Lebanon: Senior Coordinator Foley Hears of Improved Treatment of Iraqi Refugees

by WikiLeaks. 08BEIRUT952: July 01, 2008.

Posted: Sunday, September 08, 2013 at 02:48 PM UT


Viewing cable 08BEIRUT952, LEBANON: SENIOR COORDINATOR FOLEY HEARS OF

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Reference ID Created Classification Origin
08BEIRUT952 2008-07-01 09:56 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Beirut
VZCZCXRO7075
PP RUEHAG RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHLB #0952/01 1830956
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 010956Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY BEIRUT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2372
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 2557
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO 2852
RHMFISS/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 BEIRUT 000952 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR NEA/FO, NEA/ELA 
PRM A/S WITTEN, AMB FOLEY, HARRIS 
ALSO FOR IO A/S SILVERBERG AND PDAS WARLICK 
INL FOR A/S DAVID T. JOHNSON 
USUN FOR KHALILZAD/WOLFF/KUMAR/PHEE 
NSC FOR ABRAMS/SINGH/YERGER/GAVITO 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/26/2018 
TAGS: PREF PHUM PTER IQ LE
SUBJECT: LEBANON:  SENIOR COORDINATOR FOLEY HEARS OF 
IMPROVED TREATMENT OF IRAQI REFUGEES 
 
Classified By: Charge d'Affaires a.i. Michele J. Sison for reasons 1.4 
(b) and (d). 
 
SUMMARY 
-------- 
 
1. (C) In a June 26 visit to Beirut, Senior Coordinator for 
Iraqi Refugee Issues James Foley learned from the head of the 
agency responsible for immigration control, Surete Generale 
Director Wafiq Jezzini, that the Surete Generale has 
suspended its practice of detaining Iraqi refugees living in 
Lebanon without legal status.  Jezzini also expressed 
willingness to waive overstay fines for Iraqi refugees who 
are selected for resettlement in the United States.  Beirut 
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Deputy Representative Ayaki 
Ito assessed that the inflow of Iraqi refugees into Lebanon 
has stabilized, noting that the total number of Iraqi 
refugees is approximately 50,000 at present.  Ito agreed to 
target referring an additional 2,000 Iraqi refugees to the 
United States for resettlement.  Caretaker Cultural Affairs 
Minister Tariq Mitri, who served as Acting Foreign Minister 
until May 2008, remains an advocate for improved treatment of 
Iraqi refugees and volunteered to raise awareness of the 
Iraqi refugee situation to the new cabinet.  He suggested 
that either the new Interior Minister or new Foreign Affairs 
Minister take the lead on this portfolio.  End summary. 
 
2. (C) In back-to-back meetings on June 26, Ambassador Foley, 
accompanied by Charge, Elizabeth Harris of PRM/A and poloff, 
met Director Major General Wafiq Jezzini and Brigadier 
General Siham Harake at the Surete Generale, Deputy 
Representative Ayaki Ito at the UN High Commissioner for 
Refugees (UNHCR) office, and caretaker Cultural Affairs 
Minister Tariq Mitri in his office at The Ministry. 
 
PAUSE IN DETAINING REFUGEES 
--------------------------- 
 
3. (C) Referring to an agreement with UNHCR, Jezzini informed 
us of the Surete Generale's efforts over the past four months 
to release 177 Iraqi refugees from its detention centers.  He 
noted that approximately 50 Iraqi refugees remain in 
detention but are scheduled for release; however, a number of 
them have criminal records in Lebanon.  He is therefore 
reluctant to release these individuals.  Harake explained 
that the Iraqi refugees were arrested because they entered 
the country illegally, noting that they were given the 
minimum sentence, one month, because of their situation. 
 
4. (C) According to Jezzini, the Surete Generale, which gave 
these released refugees a three-month grace period to 
establish legal status, has been willing to extend the grace 
period by another three months.  Jezzini also said his 
officers were instructed to refrain from arresting the 
illegal refugees at checkpoints.  Foley urged Jezzini to 
continue refraining from imprisoning the Iraqi refugees and 
to maintain protective space for the community. 
 
RESETTLEMENT PROCESS TOO SLOW 
----------------------------- 
 
5. (C) Informing us that 100,000 Iraqi refugees currently 
live in Lebanon, Jezzini declared that Lebanon cannot accept 
the Iraqi refugees because of the overwhelming number of 
Palestinian refugees Lebanon also must accommodate (an 
estimated 400,000).  Jezzini said the resettlement process 
for Iraqis is too slow.  Harake offered the Surete Generale's 
services to help with departure passes for resettled Iraqi 
refugees, transportation to the airport, and anything else 
that might speed up the process.  Jezzini inquired whether 
the U.S. could push other countries to resettle more Iraqi 
refugees. 
 
6. (C) Foley informed Jezzini that DHS representatives 
currently processing refugee cases at Embassy Beirut will be 
looking at 1,900 Iraqi refugee cases for resettlement in the 
coming months, and have started interviewing as of June 23. 
He expressed the U.S.'s intention to raise the numbers of 
resettled Iraqi refugees, noting that security conditions in 
 
BEIRUT 00000952  002 OF 004 
 
 
Beirut prevented the DHS representatives from starting as 
scheduled in May.  Foley mentioned that, in his June 27 stop 
in Geneva, he would push UNHCR to pass more cases to the U.S. 
and inquire about forwarding additional cases to other 
countries, including Canada and Australia. 
 
WILLING TO WAIVE 
OVERSTAY FINES 
---------------- 
 
7. (C) In response to Foley's request that the Surete 
Generale consider waiving the overstay fines ($630 per 
person) the Iraqi refugees are subjected to upon departure 
from Lebanon, Harake agreed to work with UNHCR to waive the 
fees, on the basis of a humanitarian exception. 
 
IN NEED OF AMBULANCE, 
PRISON REFURBISHMENT 
--------------------- 
 
8. (C) Noting the USG delivery of 189 Dodge Chargers to the 
Internal Security Forces (ISF), another Lebanese security 
service, Jezzini opined that the Surete Generale needs 
vehicles, as well as assistance with the detention center and 
prison refurbishment.  Harake interjected that the Surete 
Generale desperately needs an ambulance.  (Note:  INL/Embassy 
Beirut is exploring funding options for requested ambulance. 
End note.)  Ambassador Foley used this opportunity to again 
argue against the detention of Iraqi refugees. 
 
UNHCR RELIES ON 
"CONTINUING FLEXIBILITY" 
OF LEBANESE AUTHORITIES 
------------------------ 
 
9. (C) Ayaki Ito, from UNHCR, spoke of the Surete Generale's 
detention of the Iraqi refugees, saying that 70 percent of 
all refugees in Lebanon are illegal, and the Surete 
Generale's policy of arresting individuals without legal 
status has been a continuing problem.  Typically, Ito said, 
the Iraqi refugees are given a choice by Surete Generale to 
"voluntarily" repatriate to Iraq, or face indefinite 
detention.  Last year, he continued, there were 800 refugees 
or asylum seekers in detention, and 90 percent of them were 
Iraqi. 
 
10. (C) Ito confirmed that when released, refugees are given 
three months to find employment and secure a residence 
permit.  However, he warned, it is difficult to find a job 
because it is costly to the employer to hire a legal worker 
as opposed to an illegal worker.  Moreover, Ito said, the 
refugees earn more money when working illegally.  Ito noted 
the Surete Generale's flexibility in extending the three 
months to a six-month grace period.  Absent a legal 
framework, Ito stated, UNHCR is relaying on the "continuing 
flexibility" of the Surete Generale.  Ito reported that the 
Lebanese Armed Forces and Internal Security Forces have also 
both been more flexible with checking documents at 
checkpoints. 
 
FEWER REFUGEES 
ENTERING LEBANON 
---------------- 
 
11. (C) Ito rejected the Surete Generale's estimate of 
100,000 Iraqi refugees, believing that 50,000 is more 
realistic based upon a Danish government survey.  Ito 
believed the Surete Generale exaggerates the number because 
of Lebanese "paranoia regarding the Palestinian refugees." 
 
12. (C) He said that 10,000 Iraqi refugees have registered at 
UNHCR, adding that he is seeing fewer registrations recently. 
 He said that if a registered refugee is detained, UNHCR can 
work to get the individual released.  Registering also 
provides the refugee with a certificate which can be shown at 
checkpoints.  He believes that fewer refugees are coming to 
Lebanon, according to registration numbers and arrests made 
at the borders, both of which have dropped. 
 
 
BEIRUT 00000952  003 OF 004 
 
 
MOST IRAQI REFUGEES IN LEBANON ARE SHIA; 
MANY TAKEN CARE OF BY HIZBALLAH 
---------------------------------------- 
 
13. (C) Ito assessed that most Iraqi refugees reside in 
Beirut, with a number of them in Nabatieh in southern 
Lebanon.  Forty five percent of those registered at UNHCR are 
Shia, with Christians making up the second largest group at 
26 percent, according to Ito.  Ito believed that Hizballah is 
assisting the Iraqi Shias, saying, "if the refugee goes to 
Dahiyeh (the southern suburb of Beirut and a Hizballah 
stronghold), he will be O.K." 
 
14. (C) Rent, food, medical care, and school ar the largest 
expenses refugees face, Ito explaind, adding that rent and 
food prices have risen dramatically recently.  UNHCR covers a 
portion of medical and schooling expenses, as well as food 
coupons, on a case-by-case, emergency basis.  He mentioned 
there are many religious charities that provide the same 
services and money to the Iraqi Shia refugees. 
 
WILLING TO REFER 
ADDITIONAL CASES 
TO THE U.S. 
---------------- 
 
15. (C) "Resettlement is an effective tool," Ito stated, "but 
we have to manage expectations."  He added that 70 percent of 
UNHCR's caseload has been met, and some of the remaining 
refugees have a weaker claim to resettlement, explaining that 
they left Iraq for economic reasons (showing a chart 
indicating 70 percent of Iraqi refugees are male, the 
majority of whom are between 20 and 40 years old) rather than 
because of vulnerability issues.  Ito agreed to refer more 
cases to the U.S., affirming he would try for 2,000 
additional referrals. 
 
16. (C) When asked by Foley about other countries' Iraqi 
refugee resettlement progress, Ito reported that in the 
previous year, UNHCR referred a total of 700 to other 
countries, and 759 to the United States.  He added that 
Australia and Canada have relatively slow processing times 
and have stated they will not accept more referrals from 
Lebanon. 
 
UNHCR TO PREPARE A LIST OF 
THOSE ELIGIBLE FOR FEE WAIVERS 
------------------------------ 
 
17. (C) Noting that currently UNHCR covers the $630 overstay 
fine (as well as the $40 departure pass fees) the GOL charges 
for resettled refugees who are leaving Lebanon, Ito was 
receptive to the suggestion that the Surete Generale waive 
the fines if UNHCR prepares a list of all of the eligible 
Iraqi refugees to be resettled. 
 
MINISTER MITRI WILL RAISE ISSUE IN CABINET 
------------------------ 
 
18. (C) Recounting how the refugee portfolio landed in his 
lap, caretaker Cultural Affairs Minister Tariq Mitri said he 
was appalled when reading of the refugees' plight in Lebanon 
in the Human Rights Watch report, and brought the issue to 
Prime Minister Siniora's attention.  Since it was unclear 
whose domain the refugees fell in, Siniora requested Mitri, 
who was also serving as Acting Foreign Minister at the time, 
and has been involved in the Middle East Council of Churches, 
to take responsibility.  Mitri explained that because Lebanon 
has not signed any of the international conventions 
protecting refugee rights, the refugees are particularly 
vulnerable in Lebanon and are subject to detention. 
 
19. (C) Mitri suspected that many Iraqi refugees chose to 
come to Lebanon because they believed Lebanon offered better 
job opportunities and because they thought their situation 
would receive more international attention (and therefore 
increased resettlement potential) since the Iraq refugee 
population is comparatively smaller in Lebanon than in Syria 
or Jordan. 
 
BEIRUT 00000952  004 OF 004 
 
 
 
20. (C) Mitri agreed with UNHCR's estimate of 50,000 
refugees, explaining that the Surete Generale may be 
inflating the number because many Christian and Shia refugees 
have integrated into the communities, particularly in 
southeastern Beirut, where the population figure is already 
"an enigma."  There are many Iraqi Assyrian and Chaldean 
clerics who arrived in Lebanon in the 1950s who have 
accommodated the Iraqi Christians.  Plus, he added, the 
registration rate is low, so it is difficult to assess the 
true number. 
 
RAISING CABINET AWARENESS 
------------------------- 
 
21. (C) Believing that many in the government hesitate to 
work on this issue for fear of being accused of disrupting 
the confessional balance, Mitri offered to report to the next 
cabinet on the work he has done to date.  He suggested that 
PM-designate Siniora assign the portfolio to the new Interior 
or Foreign Affairs Minister.  "The situation is too serious 
to be left solely to the Surete Generale," Mitri asserted. 
 
22. (U) Ambassador Foley cleared this message. 
SISON

 



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