Lebanon: Adlieh center detainees subject to inhumane and illegal incarceration

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Women held in the Adlieh retention center in Beirut hold a prayer session. (Photo: Lebanese Center for Human Rights)

By: Rana Harbi

Published Friday, June 27, 2014

Immersed in darkness and impending gloom, hundreds of migrants, asylum seekers and domestic workers are illegally cooped up in wretched and cramped underground cages under a busy highway bridge in Adlieh, Beirut for a prolonged period of time.

Eight hundred detainees are crammed, without legal justification, in the filthy and notoriously overcrowded Adlieh retention center – which has the capacity to hold only 250 detainees – for weeks, months and in some cases years, according to the Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH).

Although Lebanon ratified the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment in 2000 and also the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which stipulates in article 10 that "all persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person,” the conditions in the Adlieh center are anything but humane.

Formerly an underground parking lot, the badly ventilated and dilapidated center is a veritable hell on earth especially when it comes to hygiene, sanitation, and ventilation. The detainees are locked up in metal cages three floors underground where they have no access to hot water, natural light, fresh air or the opportunity to exercise, and are forced to sleep on the rough flagstone floors using blankets and sponge mattresses covered in feces and mold.

Concerned about the physical, mental and psychological health of the detainees, a group of human rights organizations are organizing a solidarity sit-in in front of the General Security Retention Center at the Adlieh roundabout on July 18 to demand the immediate and unconditional release of all foreigners arbitrarily detained by General Security.

According to the rights groups organizing the event, General Security “detains migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in conditions that are a tantamount of torture” with the aim to “either punish them for leaving their sponsor, entering illegally in the country, or to oblige refugees to accept their deportation to their country of origin.”

“There are major civil rights and human rights violations with the conditions underneath this bridge,” Wadih al-Asmar, Secretary General of CLDH, told Al-Akhbar. “However, the issues with the facility extend beyond the primitive conditions the detainees are kept in. Our main concern is the questionable legal framework surrounding the detention of these foreigners in the first place.”

Retention center on paper, prison in practice

General Security confirms that the former parking lot is not legally a prison or even a detention center but merely a retention center, a temporary station, or a supervision facility for foreigners waiting for their repatriation to their country of origin or their release in Lebanon.

“Legally, the center doesn’t fall under the category of a prison but it has become one in practice,” Nadim Houry, senior researcher for Lebanon and Syria at Human Rights Watch told Al-Akhbar.

According to Lebanese law, when both foreigners and locals are arrested they can only be detained for a 48-hour period. However, in Adlieh that is not the case.

“Asylum seekers, migrants and domestic workers are detained for weeks, months and even years because of the government’s inability to deport them right away,” Houry added. “This falls under arbitrary detention and is a flagrant violation of the international legislations ratified by Lebanon.”

Migrants: From one prison to another

When migrants who are convicted of illegal entry into Lebanon finish serving their sentences, the Internal Security Forces refer their cases to General Security who in return detains them in the retention center until the deportation or release procedures are complete.

“It is of great importance to address the legality of the prolonged detention of foreigners after the expiry of their sentences,” al-Asmar said. “The Lebanese authorities are using arbitrary detention of foreigners as a means of cracking down on illegal migration.”

According to a report by the CLDH titled, “Arbitrary detention and torture: The bitter reality of Lebanon,” the Lebanese State violates article 9.1 of the ICCPR which protects individuals from being detained arbitrarily beyond their sentence.

“This infringement of liberty after a judicial sentence has been served not only violates international laws but also local judicial laws,” al-Asmar added. “The Lebanese government’s financial inability to deport these foreigners back to their countries doesn’t justify confining them underground.”

The CLDH estimates that foreigners incarcerated despite completing their sentences represent 13 percent of Lebanon’s prison population. The report found that 66 percent of those detained are awaiting trial and 13 percent are detained arbitrarily beyond their sentence.

Illegal detention of asylum seekers and refugees

Similarly, refugees and asylum seekers in Lebanon suffer arbitrary detention and forced deportation at the hands of the Lebanese government, which is failing to meet its legal and international obligations to protect individuals fleeing conflict zones.

The Lebanese state stresses on the fact that Lebanon has not ratified the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the status of refugees and hence considers asylum seekers and refugees as “illegal immigrants” that have no legal status in Lebanon and should be detained and then deported.

However, Lebanon’s constitution states that Lebanon is “a founding and active member of the United Nations Organization and abides by its covenants and by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The government shall embody these principles in all fields and areas without exception.”

In addition, according to article 2 of the Lebanese civil code, ratified international agreements and treaties supersede domestic law which means that Lebanon has an international obligation to recognize the right of asylum seekers and refugees.

Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture ratified by the Lebanese government provides that “No State Party shall expel, return ("refouler") or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.”

Moreover, article 14 of the UDHR, also ratified by Lebanon, explicitly states that “everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution,” and article 12.2 of the ICCPR states that “everyone shall be free to leave any country, including his own.”

In the hopes of meeting Lebanon’s international commitments, General Security signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) that allows refugees to stay in the country for a very brief period of time until they are deported to another country.

If asylum seekers have a well-founded fear of returning to their country of origin, the UNHCR grants them refugee status, which is not recognized by the Lebanese authorities, and asserts that the asylum seekers cannot return to their country of origin. Thus, the UNHCR seeks resettlement to a third country. This process usually takes several months and even years.

“Lebanon should grant refugees and asylum seekers temporary residence in the country while either their country of origin gets better or a third country resettlement possibility is explored,” Houry said. “They should not spend that time in jail waiting for this to happen.”

According to Houry, the refugees are forced to choose between “rotting here” in indefinite detention or “dying there” by returning “voluntarily” to their countries of origin.

“Over the years, many refugees from Iraq and Sudan have been forcibly deported or were driven by the conditions they were detained in to sign their repatriation to their country of origin,” Houry explained.“This goes against the international customary principle of non- refoulement of refugees and asylum seekers.”

Domestic workers: modern-day slavery

“Domestic workers stay in detention for a long period of time because their employers don’t want to give them their passport or pay for their ticket back home,” Saadeddine Shatila, Human Rights Officer at al-Karama Foundation - one of the organizations organizing the sit-in - told Al-Akhbar. “The Lebanese state and the workers’ embassies claims that they don’t have the money to send these detainees back to their countries and so they are stuck here until a solution is found.”
More than a quarter of a million migrant domestic workers - about five percent of Lebanon’s population - are estimated to work in Lebanon.

These workers are legally constrained by the kafala, or sponsorship, system that severely curtails their right to freedom of movement in Lebanon and prevents them from leaving their employer even if they are subjected to any form of physical or verbal abuse. This system traps domestic workers in exploitative situations as they forfeit any legal status if they run away.

“If a domestic worker leaves her sponsor – even under abusive conditions – she automatically loses her legal status and is at risk of being detained and deported,” Shatila added. “Having broken her work contract, she not only loses her ticket to a flight home but also her passport and other forms of identification.”

Upon the arrival of each domestic worker at the Beirut International Airport, General Security takes the passports of migrant domestic workers and hands it to the employer or the labor agency. In a report by KAFA, a civil society organization advocating for women and children's rights, the testimonies of female domestic workers revealed a high level of injustices practiced against them in the households they work in.

“When I asked my sponsor if I would be able to go back to my country at the end of my contract, he beat me. I have no idea why he beat me,” said a Nepalese worker in Beirut. “I cannot leave my employer’s house and I cannot even call my family,” said a Filipina worker in a phone interview.

According to a 2008 report by Human Rights Watch, an average of one domestic worker dies in Lebanon every week.

Because they are not offered any legal rights, female domestic workers leap from balconies, jump out of windows and hang themselves out of desperation. In other cases women have fallen from high buildings while trying to escape their employers.

“The Lebanese government should shut down the Adlieh center as soon as possible,” Shatilla concluded. “Refugees, domestic workers and migrants cannot continue to be buried alive.”


Welcome to Lebanon, the land of retardation and degradation

I see this problem or rather hear about it here in the GCC too.

Things of that sorr have always happened (and will always will) through history.

Makes you wonder ..

Nicely written.

I visited a friend who was "detained" in this horrendous place four years ago. The conditions were horrible--no ventilation, no natural light (only dim artificial lighting), no proper food, no opportunity to exercise and no means of entertainment. My friend told me how they only had access to one movie (King Kong) that they watched over and over again every single day. It's great to see voices being raised about this now, although this detention center has been in existence for quite a while. After all these years, it's time the media talks about how the Lebanese government treats people it deems unworthy of humane treatment. The question, though, is whether the Lebanese public will really care.

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