How Lebanon’s antiquated citizenship laws deny stateless people and their children basic rights and welfare

How Lebanon’s antiquated citizenship laws deny stateless people and their children basic rights and welfare
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Updated 14 January 2022

How Lebanon’s antiquated citizenship laws deny stateless people and their children basic rights and welfare

How Lebanon’s antiquated citizenship laws deny stateless people and their children basic rights and welfare
  • Under Lebanese law, if a father is deemed stateless, his children inherit his legal status, even if their mother is a citizen
  • At least 27,000 people are classified as stateless in Lebanon, denying them access to work, travel and public services

DUBAI: Speaking in the ramshackle hut he calls a home in the southwest of Beirut, Khodar Khalaf, 58, described his life in four words: “I do not exist.”

Khalaf was born in Lebanon to poor parents who died at a young age. That meant his birth was not registered and he was raised in an orphanage. He should be a Lebanese citizen but he is instead stateless. “I cannot travel, I am not qualified for healthcare and I cannot work. I have no identification papers,” he said.

Khalaf’s case is similar to those of at least 27,000 other people who have fallen through the cracks during a decades-long maelstrom of war, confusion and bureaucratic inertia.

In a country that is fast losing its capacity to look after even its documented citizens, being stateless in Lebanon has become an unbearable curse. With no recourse to state funds or aid, Khalaf is forced to scrounge around to survive.

In addition to the poverty, discrimination and lack of access to the legal avenues or powerful people who could help, the country’s stateless are forced to do whatever they can to scrape by amid an unprecedented economic meltdown that threatens to create a permanent underclass.

According to Siren Associates, a non-governmental organization that advises public-sector clients on governance-reform initiatives, the number of stateless people in the northern city of Tripoli alone stands at around 2,200 — a figure it expects to double over the next 15 years.

In a report titled “The Plight of the Rightless: Mapping and Understanding Statelessness in Tripoli,” originally published in 2019, Siren Associates said some 67 percent of stateless people in the city have Lebanese mothers and 70 percent have Lebanese fathers, yet somehow they still manage to slip through the cracks of a system that ought to protect them.

The report found that in many cases stateless individuals lack basic documentation, such as a birth certificate, that is needed to prove their status, or the financial means or connections to acquire it.




Syrian refugee Rima Jassem holds her newborn girl as she sits with her boys in a small room on the roof of a building overlooking the ravaged port in Lebanese capital Beirut. (AFP/File Photo)

Even in cases where a stateless person marries a documented citizen, their status and that of their children is not always resolved. Under Lebanese law, if a father is stateless his children inherit his legal status, even if their mother is a citizen.

“All my life, I was made to feel less than because my father is Palestinian,” 38-year-old Ahmad, whose mother is Lebanese, told Arab News. “There are so many opportunities I am not afforded, so many job sectors I am not allowed to enter; I cannot even be a taxi driver. I cannot own my own house. I have a four-year-old daughter and she inherited my curse.”

Palestinians in Lebanon have long been deprived of state protections. To prevent them from falling into destitution, the UN Relief and Works Agency offers basic services.

But Ahmad says the UN support is not enough to get by on, especially since the economic collapse in Lebanon began in 2019. Many Palestinians were already confined to camps, denied opportunities to travel and barred from several forms of employment. Now they face even harsher conditions.




People exchange Lebanese pound and US dollar notes on the black market in Lebanon's capital Beirut. (AFP/File Photo)

One partial solution to the problem would be to change the law so that Lebanese women are allowed to pass on their nationality to their children and spouse.

Such a move has been staunchly opposed by successive governments, however, who view the granting of citizenship as a valuable political tool.

The country’s leaders are often given quotas for dispensing citizenship as a kind of political favor. Under Lebanon’s rigidly sectarian system, this is always done along confessional lines and almost always rewards powerful patrons such as businessmen, not the dispossessed.

In 2018, President Michel Aoun granted Lebanese citizenship to more than 300 people in a process that drew criticism for its lack of transparency and accusations of bribery.

INNUMBERS

* 27,000 - People estimated to be stateless in Lebanon.

* 63% - Proportion of non-registered individuals born to a Lebanese father.

* 76% - Proportion of non-registered individuals born to a Lebanese mother.

* 37% - Proportion of stateless who say they have access to healthcare.

* 58% - Higher unemployment rate over the non-stateless.

* 33% - Proportion of stateless who have received no schooling or other education.

Source: SIREN Associates 2019

Similar allegations were leveled against parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri and the prime minister at the time, Saad Hariri, when they too were given citizenship quotas to dispense. That year, a number of Syrian businessmen with connections to the regime of President Bashar Assad were granted Lebanese nationality.

“Anyone useful to the state, whether a businessman, investors or someone with a good reputation, and whose naturalization would be in Lebanon’s interest is welcome,” Gebran Bassil, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement and son-in-law of the president, said at the time.

However, Bassil remains opposed to changing the law to allow Lebanese mothers to pass on their nationality to their children.

Tentative moves to change the system have met with strong resistance. Toward the end of 2021, Mustafa Bayram, a Hezbollah MP and Lebanon’s minister of labor, announced plans to remove work restrictions on undocumented Palestinians and Lebanese.

The political class was outraged by the announcement, forcing Bayram to make a statement saying his “words were taken out of context” and that “what has been forbidden by law until now will remain the same.”




A man wearing a cross necklace and clad in mask depicting the Lebanese flag stands next to flaming tires at a make-shift roadblock set-up by anti-government demonstrators in the area of Daoura. (AFP/File Photo)

Lina Abou-Habib, a prominent feminist and director of the Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship at the American University of Beirut, has described the Lebanese government an “unapologetically patriarchal regime” as it effectively considers only men to be citizens.

“When you undermine a woman’s right to confer nationality, you undermine a generation’s rights to social services and political participation,” she told Arab News.

“Lebanon remains consistent in denying rights. This requires more than reform; it requires changing the whole system, the whole status quo.”

The country’s political dysfunction is compounded by its economic insolvency. Last week, the Lebanese pound was trading at 33,000 to the dollar, down from 1,500 just over a year ago.

Meanwhile, state subsidies on essential goods such as wheat, benzine and diesel have been chipped away, meaning a full tank of petrol now costs more than the average monthly salary, which inflation has reduced to just $21 in real terms.

Many Lebanese are now almost completely reliant on remittances sent from relatives living abroad. Dollars flowing in from the diaspora have long been a way to supplement an economy largely built on tourism. However, remittance dollars that were once a top up are now essential for many just to get by.




Only 37 percent of stateless people in Lebanon say they have access to healthcare. (Supplied/INSAN)

For the stateless with no access to money from overseas, the situation is growing increasingly desperate. Charitable organizations have been forced to step in where the government has been unable or unwilling to provide help.

“We offer hygiene kits, food distribution, education, legal advice and psychosocial support,” Hassan Bahani, programs manager at Insan Association, told Arab News. “Stateless children and their parents are often victimized and subjected to discrimination, and we offer counseling sessions to children and their parents.”

Charity can only be a short-term solution, however. Theodore Caponis, who led the research by Siren Associates on statelessness, said the denial of proper documentation is a human rights issue that must be urgently resolved.

“Left unaddressed, this issue will trap an ever-growing number of people in a human rights limbo and result in an even bigger challenge to the state,” he said.




Stateless children and their parents are often victimized and subjected to discrimination, Hassan Bahani, programs manager at Insan Association, tells Arab News. (Supplied/INSAN)

“There is an immediate need to simplify and accelerate the process for settling the status of non-registered individuals born to a Lebanese father, and to simultaneously start a nationwide mapping of the stateless population.”

For Khalaf, living in his improvised shelter near the airport, the roar of jets taking off and landing is a constant reminder of his inability to travel. To survive he has resorted to the informal labor market, at times selling boxes of tissues on the roadside.

“The situation is unbearable,” he said. “Five years ago you were able to get by. NGOs had more opportunities to help people like me, neighbors had more means to help as well. But now it seems everyone can barely make ends meet.

“Sometimes I wish I was never born.”


Britain’ Prince William meets with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi

Britain’ Prince William meets with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi
Updated 29 sec ago

Britain’ Prince William meets with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi

Britain’ Prince William meets with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi

ABU DHABI: The Duke of Cambridge met newly-appointed UAE president Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi to offer condolences on the death of Sheikh Khalifa on Monday.

The former president and ruler of Abu Dhabi died on Friday aged 73.

Prince William, who making the trip on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II, also offered congratulations to Sheikh Mohammed on his appointment as UAE president and ruler of Abu Dhabi.

The Duke of Cambridge is the latest global figure to travel to the UAE capital to pay respects, following French president Emmanuel Macron and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The prince’s trip to the UAE capital followed a phone call to Sheikh Mohammed on Sunday from Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, who also offered condolences on the passing of Sheikh Khalifa and good wishes to Sheikh Mohammed on his appointment.

Queen Elizabeth also sent a message to Sheikh Mohamed, sharing her sadness over Sheikh Khalifa's death, adding: “He will be long remembered by all who work for regional stability, understanding between nations and between faiths, and for the conservation cause.”


Egypt urges Libyan officials to ‘seize the opportunity’ at Cairo meetings

Egypt urges Libyan officials to ‘seize the opportunity’ at Cairo meetings
Updated 36 min 4 sec ago

Egypt urges Libyan officials to ‘seize the opportunity’ at Cairo meetings

Egypt urges Libyan officials to ‘seize the opportunity’ at Cairo meetings
  • Talks can put Libya on path to stability and security, Foreign Ministry says
  • ‘Time is running out fast and the Libyan people are more anxious than ever’: Acting UN envoy to Libya

CAIRO: The Egyptian Foreign Ministry has urged rival Libyan officials meeting in Cairo to “seize the opportunity of their presence together during this round of talks to address issues.”

The ministry said it was aware of the sensitivity and difficulty of the issues but affirmed its confidence in the capabilities and commitment of the participants to support the interests of the Libyan people.

A second round of talks began on Sunday in the presence of all members of the House of Representatives Committee, the “Higher Council of State,” and the acting UN envoy to Libya Stephanie Williams amid high hopes that a solution could be reached to end the political crisis.

The talks began with a speech by the host nation in which it expressed its support for the constitutional process on which the Libyans have pinned their hopes. The ministry said that the eyes of 7 million Libyans were on the talks and it hoped “the outcomes of these meetings rise to the ceiling of the aspirations of the Libyans in approving a constitutional framework.”

It also expressed its confidence that the efforts of the joint committee would put Libya on the path to stability, security and development, stressing that Cairo would continue to sponsor the Libyan constitutional track based on its ties and balanced relations with all parties.

The ministry confirmed that previous meetings, in Cairo in October 2020 and Hurghada in January and February 2021, and the first round of the current talks on April 13-18 had paved the way for the high-level political consultations held over the past two weeks.

It also commended the efforts of Williams, “and the work team of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya in facilitating this meeting, and supporting the task of the meeting with the ideas and tools necessary to complete it to the fullest.”

Williams said at the opening session: “Time is running out fast and the Libyan people are more anxious than ever for stability.

“As you know, the work of this committee began on April 13 and therefore we will finish its work on May 28, meaning within 45 days.

“In everything I do, my message is … After more than a decade of turmoil, the Libyan people are tired of war and endless competition over the Libyan executive and economic resources, and they want to choose their representatives so that their long-awaited dream of stability and prosperity can come true.”

She continued: “A month has passed since our last meeting, and Libya is still at the same critical juncture, for which there is no solution but to move toward comprehensive, fair, transparent and credible national elections to respect the will of the 2.8 million Libyan citizens who have registered to vote.”

The first round of consultations concluded last month without an agreement. The Supreme State is calling for the formulation of a constitutional rule that leads to elections, while Parliament demands the amendment of “controversial” texts between the two councils in the constitution in accordance with the 12th amendment it issued two months ago, provided that it is put to a referendum as a constitution, on the basis of which parliamentary and presidential elections are held.


Briton facing death penalty in Iraq over pottery smuggling pleads with court

Briton facing death penalty in Iraq over pottery smuggling pleads with court
Updated 16 May 2022

Briton facing death penalty in Iraq over pottery smuggling pleads with court

Briton facing death penalty in Iraq over pottery smuggling pleads with court
  • Jim Fitton, 66, took 12 stones and shards of broken pottery from an archaeological site in Eridu, southeastern Iraq
  • Fitton said that his background as a geologist meant that he liked to collect fragments as a hobby, but did not intend to sell them

LONDON: A retired British geologist facing an Iraqi court over allegations that he attempted to smuggle historical items has argued that he did not realize he was committing a crime.

Jim Fitton, 66, took 12 stones and shards of broken pottery from an archaeological site in Eridu, southeastern Iraq.

Fitton, who is facing the death penalty, appeared in the Baghdad court with German national Volker Waldmann.

He told the three-judge panel that he did not act with criminal intent, adding that there were no signs warning him against taking the shards of pottery.

Fitton told the judges that he “suspected” the items had ancient heritage, but that he “didn’t know about Iraqi laws” at the time, and that he was unaware that taking the shards was a criminal offense.

He was confused because “there were fences, no guards or signage.”

Fitton said that his background as a geologist meant that he liked to collect fragments as a hobby, but did not intend to sell them.

The chief judge in the Baghdad court told Fitton that the location and importance of the site meant that the items were clearly protected.

“These places, in name and by definition, are ancient sites. One doesn’t have to say it is forbidden,” Jaber Abdel Jabir said.

Fitton pleaded that some of the shards he had recovered were “no larger than my fingernail,” but the judge responded: “Size doesn’t matter.”

The 66-year-old and Waldmann were arrested as they attempted to fly out of the country at the end of a geological tour in March. Pottery shards and stones were recovered from their luggage.

Waldmann said that the two artifacts found among his belongings were given to him by Fitton.

The court will reconvene on May 22 to determine if the men hoped to profit from the shards. They are facing the death penalty, but some legal experts have said that this is an unlikely result, even if it is the statutory sentence for smuggling artifacts.

Fitton’s lawyers are expected to submit further evidence, including information from government employees who were present at the sites where the shards and stones were recovered.


Iran says awaits US response to nuclear talks ‘solutions’

Iran says awaits US response to nuclear talks ‘solutions’
Iran says awaits US response to nuclear talks ‘solutions’. (File/AFP)
Updated 16 May 2022

Iran says awaits US response to nuclear talks ‘solutions’

Iran says awaits US response to nuclear talks ‘solutions’
  • Negotiations had stalled for about two months

TEHRAN: Iran said on Monday it awaited the US response to “solutions” discussed with the EU envoy for breaking a stalemate in talks aimed at restoring the 2015 nuclear deal.
The European Union’s coordinator for nuclear talks with Iran, Enrique Mora, held two days of discussions with the Islamic republic’s chief negotiator Ali Bagheri in Tehran last week, leading the EU to say talks had been unblocked.
The negotiations, aimed at bringing the US back into the deal and Iran to full compliance with it, had stalled for about two months.
“Serious and result-oriented negotiations with special initiatives from Iran were held,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told reporters.
“If the US gives its response to some of the solutions that were proposed, we can be in the position that all sides return to Vienna,” where the talks are held, he added during his weekly press conference.
Iran has been engaged in direct negotiations with France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China to revive the deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The US has participated indirectly.
The 2015 agreement gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program to prevent Tehran from developing an atomic bomb — something it has always denied wanting to do.
But the US unilateral withdrawal from the accord in 2018 under then-president Donald Trump and the reimposition of biting economic sanctions prompted Iran to begin rolling back on its own commitments.
“If the US announces its political decision today, which we have not yet received, we can say that an important step has been taken in the progress of the negotiations,” Khatibzadeh noted.
Among the sticking points is Tehran’s demand to remove the Revolutionary Guards, the ideological arm of Iran’s military, from a US terrorism list.
EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell on Friday said Mora’s mission to Tehran went “better than expected” and the stalled negotiations “have been reopened.”
Washington, however, has adopted a less optimistic tone. State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Friday that “at this point, a deal remains far from certain.”
He added: “It is up to Iran to decide whether it wants to conclude a deal quickly.”
Talks on reviving the agreement began in April last year.


Israel’s top Catholic prelate condemns police funeral attack

Israel’s top Catholic prelate condemns police funeral attack
Updated 16 May 2022

Israel’s top Catholic prelate condemns police funeral attack

Israel’s top Catholic prelate condemns police funeral attack
  • Friday’s incident was a ‘disproportionate use of force’ to the Palestinian flag-waving crowd
  • Israel and the Palestinians are locked in a war of narratives over the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh

JERUSALEM: The top Catholic clergyman in the Holy Land on Monday condemned the police beating of mourners carrying the casket of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, accusing the authorities of violating human rights and disrespecting the Catholic Church.
Latin Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa told reporters at St. Joseph Hospital in Jerusalem that Friday’s incident, broadcast around the world, was a “disproportionate use of force” to the Palestinian flag-waving crowd of thousands proceeding from the hospital to a nearby Catholic church in Jerusalem’s Old City. The attack drew worldwide condemnation and added to the shock and outrage of Abu Akleh’s killing as she covered a shootout in the occupied West Bank.
The police attack, Pizzaballa told reporters, “is a severe violation of international norms and regulations, including the fundamental human right of freedom of religion, which must be observed also in a public space.”
There was no immediate Israeli response.
He spoke as Israel and the Palestinians are locked in a war of narratives over the killing of Abu Akleh. The reporter, a Palestinian-American and a 25-year veteran of the satellite channel, was killed Wednesday while covering an Israeli military raid in the Jenin refugee camp. She was a household name across the Arab world, known for documenting the hardship of Palestinian life under Israeli rule.
Palestinian officials and witnesses, including journalists who were with her, say she was killed by army fire. The military, after initially saying Palestinian gunmen might have been responsible, later backtracked and now says it’s not clear who fired the deadly bullet.
After an international uproar over the funeral violence, Israeli police launched an investigation into the conduct of the officers who attacked the mourners, causing the pallbearers to nearly drop her coffin.
Israel has called for a joint investigation with the Palestinians, saying the bullet must be analyzed by ballistics experts to reach firm conclusions. Palestinian officials have refused, saying they don’t trust Israel. Human rights groups says Israel has a poor record of investigating wrongdoing by its security forces.
After earlier saying they would accept an outside partner, the Palestinians said late Sunday that they would handle the investigation alone and deliver results very soon.
“We also refused to have an international investigation because we trust our capabilities as a security institution,” Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh announced. “We will not hand over any of the evidence to anyone because we know that these people are able to falsify the facts.” He stood with Abu Akleh’s brother, Anton, and Al Jazeera’s local bureau chief, Walid Al-Omari.
Amid the wrangling, several research and human rights groups have launched their own investigations.
Bellingcat, a Dutch-based international consortium of researchers, published an analysis of video and audio evidence gathered on social media. The material came from both Palestinian and Israeli military sources, and the analysis looked at such factors as time stamps, the locations of the videos, shadows and a forensic audio analysis of gunshots.
The group found that while gunmen and Israeli soldiers were both in the area, the evidence supported witness accounts that Israeli fire killed Abu Akleh.
“Based on what we were able to review, the IDF (Israeli soldiers) were in the closest position and had the clearest line of sight to Abu Akleh,” said Giancarlo Fiorella, the lead researcher of the analysis.
Fiorella acknowledged that the analysis cannot be 100 percent certain without such evidence as the bullet, weapons used by the army and GPS locations of Israeli forces. But he said the emergence of additional evidence typically bolsters preliminary conclusions and almost never overturns them.