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DailyStar- U.N. urges Lebanon to act on stateless people

U.N. urges Lebanon to act on stateless people
By Olivia Alabaster

BEIRUT: The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the Frontiers Ruwad Association urged the Lebanese government Thursday to act on issues concerning stateless people in the country, at the close of a media roundtable on the topic.

The Lebanese human rights non-governmental organization, together with the United Nations body, issued a list of recommendations for the government to follow up on. Estimates say there could be as many as 200,000 stateless people in Lebanon, although the lack of data means that determining an exact figure is impossible.

Aimed at increasing communication between relevant authorities, U.N. agencies, experts and NGOs, the roundtable concluded with a showing of the first documentary film made on the issue, filmed by Frontiers Ruwad.

The film outlines the main causes and problems associated with statelessness in Lebanon, focusing on de facto as opposed to de jure statelessness, the latter affecting those without an alternative state, such as Palestinians.

De facto stateless people are “in principle and by the law entitled to Lebanese nationality,” according to Frontiers executive director, Samira Trad, but may have fallen through the net for various reasons and may not know they are entitled to nationality. Such people may be defined as “unregistered” or “under study.”

Mohammad Kasrani, 22, is defined as “under study.” While his mother is Lebanese, his father is also defined in his category, his own father having left Palestine before the 1948 creation of Israel and thus receiving the “under study” category, not refugee status, and passing it on to his son and grandson.

In the film Kasrani explains that he had not seen his statelessness as a problem until he applied to study at the Lebanese University. The registration required him to fill in his nationality, which he could not do. Refused entry to LU, Kasrani went on to study at another university in Lebanon.

Intending to pursue his studies in France, General Security supplied Kasrani with a laissez-passer, persuading him that it was equal to a passport. The French authorities said they would only accept a passport, and Kasrani was denied entry to the Schengen area of Europe.

He urged action on the issue, adding that while he has to pay social security fees, he cannot benefit from NSSF services.

Wael, 35 years old, also featured in the film. His parents are both without citizenship and he is therefore defined as “unregistered.” When his father applied, on behalf of the entire family, for nationality in 1994, Wael was a minor, and therefore did not qualify. The rest of his family members are now Lebanese citizens, but Wael remains without statehood.

He approached Frontiers Ruwad for advice on his case. Although he says he knows the road to citizenship will be difficult, he says it will be worth it “to have a normal life and be able to marry.”

Trad urged the Lebanese government to find solutions to the issue, and said that “it is unacceptable to have someone on this earth without citizenship … who is denied basic and fundamental rights.”

Ninette Kelly, regional representative for the UNHCR, also featured in the film, and cited several key obstacles facing the campaign for statelessness, including the lack of a census since 1932.

This lack of accurate data has wide ramifications, as the descendants of those who chose not to participate in that census are still feeling the effects today, Trad said. Many did not register for political or ideological reasons, Trad said, including some residents of the Wadi Khaled region of Akkar who wanted to be defined as Syrian.

Recommendations for the Lebanese government include studying the gaps in the law, and the lack of a legal framework, which leads to statelessness. Currently the laws pertaining to statehood are spread across different sections of the Penal Code, including personal status laws and nationality laws.

It was also agreed that the reasons why some children are not registered at birth need to be identified. The groups urged the government to conduct a census of unregistered and “under study” persons, so that the extent of the issue, and the best ways to deal with it, can be realized.

A national awareness campaign, which rests on the input of civil society and media groups, is also needed, as people are largely ignorant of the issues surrounding statelessness, Trad said. A follow-up committee involving all participants will be established to continue working on the issue.

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