Lebanese State and Society Join Forces Against Migrant Workers

Activists are quick to assert that the military has not in any way served to protect the foreign workers from harassment but the exact opposite. (Photo: al-Akhbar - Archive)

By: Ahmed Mohsen

Published Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Migrant workers in Bourj Hammoud, Nabaa, and Dawra in Lebanon are now facing outright state intimidation after falling victim to a new wave of attacks prompted by racist media reports.

An armored vehicle parks on the Dawra roundabout in Beirut’s eastern end. The nearby coffee and nargileh cafes popular with foreigners and locals were mysteriously closed Wednesday. Sundays of recent weeks have seen increasingly large groups of soldiers question pedestrians of mostly African and South Asian descent over their papers.

The usually popular strip was strangely quiet as cafe’s shutters remained closed. While one shop owner would not confirm who ordered their closure, when asked asked how long they would stay closed he said, “maybe one week, maybe one month. I don’t know.” The unusual atmosphere comes as migrants start voicing concern over racism in the area.

Migrant workers and African refugees met recently to raise their voice in protest against a series of racist and abusive incidents, mainly at the hands of security forces. Stories of public abuse and mass arrests of African refugees have been circulating after a notorious report report by a Lebanese television station.

The African community responded with a press conference on Monday to “clarify the circumstances of the unfortunate events that took place.” Speaking in fluent Arabic, a representative refused accusations that those who have been rounded up in the past few days are dealing drugs or involved in prostitution.

She objected to statements published in their name without their prior knowledge. She also stressed that arrests made by the security forces were arbitrary, unjustified, and often accompanied by insults and beatings.

She called on the security forces to protect them, reminding society that they are here to work. Finally, workers at the conference confirmed that their embassies were trying to help, even though they have yet to grasp the magnitude of the problem.

Workers also gave testimony about incidents they have witnessed or heard about from their colleagues. One was about a law enforcement officer who slapped and humiliated a migrant worker in the Dawra area while onlookers laughed.

An African refugee spoke of mass arrests being conducted shortly after the notorious media report, accusing the authorities of detaining people based on their color.

The working class district of Bourj Hammoud north of Beirut has become a flash point of this rampant racism. According to Ali Fakhry of the Anti-Racism Movement, “it was the television report that made the people who are usually kind-hearted believe they have the right to expel foreigners.”

He said that data gathered in the area during the last week showed that racism activity has increased notably since the release of the report, prompting the army to get involved.

Activists are quick to assert that the military has not in any way served to protect the foreign workers from harassment but the exact opposite.

A Sudanese worker says the army is no longer differentiating between legal and illegal. All are insulted and handed over to the police, to be “filtered” by the authorities.

He adds that those who have refugee status are also picked up and that their UN papers are of no help in this regard. A considerable number of those transferred to the central prison in Roumieh to await a ruling on their case are innocent, but end up spending many months and years behind bars.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition, with files from Tom Allinson.

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