Despite its international commitment, Lebanese immigration laws fail to protect migrants and make them particularly vulnerable because, inter alia, they are easily subject to arrest and detention.
Indeed, asylum-seekers applying to the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Lebanon or even those who have been accepted as refugees by UNHCR are still liable to be arrested and detained if their status is irregular in Lebanon. Lebanese immigration laws apply to children as well. This because Lebanon does not protect the rights asylum- seekers and refugees are entitled to and is not a signatory of the Convention related to the status of refugees.
Moreover, the Kafala system in force requires a sponsor to enable migrants to stay legally. Migrant workers, especially women domestic workers, who escape from their employer’s place either because they suffered from abuses or decided to become free-lancers lose their sponsor and therefore fall into illegality. This phenomenon is widespread, mainly because migrant workers are not aware of it, due to their lack of Arabic, English or French knowledge. On many points, the Kafala system is conflicting with the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families which has not been ratified by Lebanon.
Therefore, a report estimates that figures of sentenced migrants and migrants held in pre-trial detention are almost one thousand men and women, representing 15% to 20% of the total prison population in Lebanon. Most are charged for irregular entry or stay, escaping from the employer, falsification of documents or theft. However, a large majority of complaints that employers file against their domestic workers accusing them for theft are false, or even abusive.
Migrants in prison are particularly vulnerable since they cannot count on their relatives’ support, as they are in their country of origin or themselves have irregular status in Lebanon. Detained migrants also suffer from not being able to communicate with prison’s staff since most of them barely speak Arabic.
Lebanese prisons are currently facing several challenges related to the protection of detainees, in general, and detained migrants, in particular, such as overcrowding, critical conditions of detention and long periods of detention, mainly due to the very lengthy judicial procedures (add link to detainees’ rights)
Since 2000, CLMC has been providing psycho-social, medical and legal assistance to nearly 1,000 detained migrants per year. CLMC has a permanent office in the Tripoli (North) women’s prison and visits several times a week other 19 Lebanese prisons (16 men’s and 3 women’s) to tailor its assistance to the detainees’ needs, such as:
HUMANITARIAN ASSISTANCE is provided to vulnerable people, such as chronically-ill patients. It includes clothes, mattresses and blankets as well as a hygienic kit for elementary needs and food when required. As an alternative to prison, CLMC provides shelter to pregnant women, or women accompanied by children who have completed their sentences, upon the General Security’s approval.
MEDICAL ASSISTANCE ensures very vulnerable detainees have access to medical treatment. CLMC provides medicines that cannot be obtained in the prisons’ supplies. For migrants with specific medical needs, CLMC’s social workers refer these detainees to the appropriate doctor, psychotherapist or hospital, ensure psycho-social follow-up and coordinate with other NGOs when required. CLMC pays for the medical examination fees.
LEGAL ASSISTANCE is provided by CLMC’s lawyers who represent detained migrants and follow up their case in order to accelerate extremely lengthy administrative procedures, release of sentences and other proceedings. Our lawyers also assist detained migrants with their requests for release or regularization of documents.
COMMUNICATION WITH THE OUTSIDE WORLD is an essential right for detained people. CLMC makes sure detainees are able to get in touch with people they need to contact, such as their family, embassy or UNHCR by forwarding their mails or opening the possibility of calling.
ORIENTATION SESSIONS are delivered in prisons upon beneficiaries’ request to raise their awareness on human rights and Lebanese immigration laws as well as to sensitize them on various health topics, such as bodily hygiene, harmful effects of tobacco, HIV.
CLMC’s ADVOCACY aims to urge the Lebanese government to ratify the UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families as well as to abolish the Kafala (sponsorship) system in order to guarantee migrant workers’ fundamental liberties, such as the right of free movement, and, consequently, to decrease the number of detainees arrested for having run away from their employer.
In parallel, CLMC is committed to strengthen its collaboration with judges, prosecutors and law enforcement in order to sensitize them on the importance to protect and respect detained migrants’ rights, especially the rights of women prisoners.
To ensure the efficiency of its actions, CLMC acts in coordination with other NGOs and international organizations present on the field.
On the 3rd of July 2012, Diakonia (Sweden), Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center (CLMC), The Lebanese Women Democratic Gathering (RDFL), and Dar Al Amal jointly launched the EU-funded project “Promoting Human Rights Policy and Practice in Lebanese Women’s Prisons” was described as a first step to translate more sustainable changes for women’s prisoners’ rights into concrete reality.
The project aims to improve the quality of legal, social and health support, provided to women in four prisons: Baabda women’s prison, Tripoli’s prison, Zahle’s prison and Barbar Al Khazen prison in Verdun. The 2.5 year project will highlight the importance of establishing a more sustainable change in women’s prisons guided by human rights principles, and to support social workers, prisons’ administration, and the prisoners themselves to incorporate human rights’ values.
CLMC’s role in the project is critical as the women’s prison population is more than 50% migrant workers. As such, CLMC’s two decades-long expertise in working for the legal protection of this population is critical to the overall success of the project.