Since the 2006 ceasefire in Lebanon, International Medical Corps has been delivering health care and training to strengthen capacity in the country. In addition to providing critical health services for vulnerable Lebanese, in 2008, we expanded our programs to include Iraqi refugees residing in Lebanon. We recently partnered with Heartland Alliance (HA) an international organization whose goal is to develop and implement regional protection projects to vulnerable refugees; especially providing support for Iraqi beneficiaries and their families who are experiencing or are victims of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in Lebanon.
HA and International Medical Corps are both invested in sharing information, and coordinating referrals and activities between the two organizations. In May, we conducted the first of many awareness sessions to promote legal options available to Iraqi refugee families living in Lebanon. On May 12th, 32 Iraqi women gathered at International Medical Corps’ Social Center in Haret Hrek to attend the awareness session presented by Ghada Sabbagh, Legal Manager with HA. Sabbagh provided attendees with information about their status as refugees in Lebanon and the legal options available to them. She also explained the definition of what constitutes a refugee according to UNHCR as well as processes for resettlement to accepting countries.
During the session it was noted that Lebanon has not signed the UN’s Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 UNHCR) which outlines that Lebanon does not assume the responsibility of granting asylum to refugees. The consequences of not signing this convention were discussed and Sabbagh provided information on available options for Iraqi refugees detained by Lebanese General Security Officers and facing possible deportation or imprisonment. She helped shed light on the many misconceptions regarding resettlement and answered questions regarding work visas and citizenship papers.
Because many Iraqi refugees have wed Lebanese nationals, questions were raised about their children receiving Lebanese citizenship. Sabbagh explained that Lebanese nationality can only be passed on from fathers to their children. In addition, she explained the procedures that were recently announced by the Lebanese authority that permit Iraqi refugees to extend their stay legally in Lebanon by finding a national to sponsor them. This new law will help mixed families of Iraqis and Lebanese to not be segregated once the refugee’s three-month tourist visa expires.
In addition to addressing returnee affairs, SGBV awareness and protection services were stressed to attendees. Survivors were encouraged to seek available services for both themselves and for their children.
International Medical Corps and HA will continue to provide awareness sessions for Iraqi refugees living in Lebanon. We are one of the few private sector humanitarian groups operating both inside Iraq and in those neighboring countries like Lebanon with the largest refugee populations. We provide both refugees and vulnerable local populations with primary health care services and mental health care and psychosocial support.