Lebanon tells UNHCR that it can no longer tolerate the burden of Syrian refugees

ebanon has once again voiced its concerns about Syrian refugees, stating that the country can no longer tolerate some of their actions. (UNHCR/File Photo)
ebanon has once again voiced its concerns about Syrian refugees, stating that the country can no longer tolerate some of their actions. (UNHCR/File Photo)
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Updated 30 April 2022

Lebanon tells UNHCR that it can no longer tolerate the burden of Syrian refugees

ebanon has once again voiced its concerns about Syrian refugees, stating that the country can no longer tolerate some of their a
  • Officials in Lebanon frequently hold Syrian refugees responsible for the deteriorating economic situation
  • Aoun raised the issue with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres when he visited Lebanon in 2021

BEIRUT: Lebanon has once again voiced its concerns about Syrian refugees, stating that the country can no longer tolerate some of their actions.

Lebanese Minister of Labor Mustafa Bayram said: “Lebanon is no longer able to play policeman for other countries.”

Prime Minister Najib Mikati chaired a meeting of the ministerial committee in charge of discussing the issue of Syrian refugees in Lebanon, during which Bayram said: “The Lebanese state is no longer able to handle this matter.”

Bayram also stressed after the meeting that Lebanon is left alone, and the state cannot stand to cost.

“We no longer have diesel boats to monitor the sea, and the UN and UNHCR must step up and bear their responsibilities. The Lebanese are queuing at banks and ATMs, while others receive direct aid in dollars. They share our water, electricity and resources while we do not get anything. Many institutions, international organizations and countries are concluding agreements with Lebanese NGOs and paying them in dollars without going through the state, and frankly, this uncontrolled situation is no longer acceptable,” he said.

Hector Hajjar, minister of social affairs, met Ayaki Ito, representative of the UNHCR office in Lebanon, and conveyed the Lebanese government’s official position regarding Syrian refugees.

Hajjar’s office said he informed Ito that the Lebanese state is committed to the principle of not forcing refugees to return to their country of origin, but the situation is no longer tolerable and the state is no longer able to bear the cost of maintaining security in the refugee camps and the areas in which refugees have settled.

Hajjar said: “The Lebanese state has always received less aid than the needs declared annually, despite the fact that 35 percent of the population is made up of displaced persons and refugees. According to reports, 82 percent of the Lebanese suffer from multidimensional poverty. The Lebanese state has incurred huge losses over the years, due to the displaced people benefiting from the state’s subsidies on basic commodities such as medicine, bread, and fuel, in addition to prison overcrowding and the resulting burdens, not to mention the security chaos and competition in the labor market.”

Following the ministerial committee meeting, Hajjar talked about the high crime rate, to which Syrians have contributed.

The Internal Security Forces announced that they had arrested two Syrians who tried to kill a shop owner in Hermel on Friday by hitting him with a sharp object on the head as they attempted to rob him.

Bayram warned that Lebanon will implement the laws deporting criminals back to their country. “This is what all countries do.”

“The social situation is also no longer tolerable. The non-Lebanese are admitted to hospitals, while the Lebanese can no longer be hospitalized. Others receive education, rent, and heating allowance, and the Lebanese get nothing,” Hajjar said.

The Supreme Defense Council convened on Friday, headed by Lebanese President Michel Aoun, to discuss the security measures that will accompany the parliamentary elections on May 15. Aoun repeated his demand that Syrian refugees return to their country and talked about the burden on Lebanon, which is suffering from a severe economic crisis.

Officials in Lebanon frequently hold Syrian refugees responsible for the deteriorating economic situation. Aoun raised this issue with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres when he visited Lebanon in 2021.


Concern in Lebanon as mobile data rates surge

A Lebanese woman checks her phone in the capital Beirut. (AFP file photo)
A Lebanese woman checks her phone in the capital Beirut. (AFP file photo)
Updated 15 sec ago

Concern in Lebanon as mobile data rates surge

A Lebanese woman checks her phone in the capital Beirut. (AFP file photo)
  • National currency has lost 95 percent of its value

BEIRUT: The adoption of new tariffs for phone services and subscriptions in Lebanon has caused concern.

Pricing will now follow the dollar exchange rate on the Sayrafa platform, which is about LBP25,200. Prices used to be calculated according to the official exchange rate of LBP1,515.

The tariff raise came into force on Friday.

People woke up on Friday to text messages sent by telecom operators calculating their balances according to the Sayrafa exchange rate, surprised by the value of their balance tumbling to below $1.

In May, the Cabinet approved the decision to increase the tariffs and fees for landline, mobile calls, and the internet starting July 1.

They will be calculated by dividing the previous dollar bill by three and then paying it in Lebanese pounds per the Sayrafa platform rate.

But people are struggling to accept the new prices, despite the help offered to students and security services by telecom companies Touch and Alfa.

Rabih, a 17-year-old student, said: “I had LBP75,000 in my balance, which used to amount to $49 according to the official rate. The amount shrank today to 30 (US) cents.”

Based on comparison tables between the prices in dollars and the prices adopted now, prices have fallen by about 300 percent in dollars, while their calculation according to the Lebanese pound rate shows a significant increase ranging from 500 to 700 percent.

The Lebanese currency has lost more than 95 percent of its value, leading to significant price differences.

The price table circulated by telecom companies shows that a 30-day prepaid card which used to cost $22.7 — equivalent to about LBP34,000 per the official dollar exchange rate — now costs $7.58.

But, if calculated based on the Sayrafa rate, its cost rises to LBP191,000, which means an increase of about 560 percent.

The telecom companies confirmed that the step came in response to the “necessity to maintain the continuity of the telecom sector and the provided services, amid the economic and financial crisis and the increase of the high cost of power insurance for plants, and since this sector is one of the most important pillars of the national economy.”

Activists warned that “audio messages and videos should not be sent when using the 4G service because they will consume all phone data.”

Young people’s phones fell silent, with some preferring to stay at home because the cost of home internet services remains the same.

The Lebanese are thinking twice before downloading a video or picture using the 3G or 4G service.

People relying on this service hesitate before opening any video received. Sending morning flowers and evening greetings has decreased significantly in recent days.

Abbas, a private internet service distributor, said: “We raised our prices but all distributors agreed to calculate their prices according to the rate of LBP10,000 for the dollar instead of the Sayrafa rate of about LBP25,000 to compete with the Ogero service affiliated to the Ministry of Telecommunications and maintain our subscribers. Our prices took into consideration the costs of transportation, generator subscriptions, and employees. I don’t deny that some subscribers decided to opt for the Ogero service because it is cheaper than ours by LBP60,000.

“But they forgot that Ogero is suffering from fuel shortage, preventing it from securing the service around-the-clock. Many operators are forced to turn off their machines as a result of their inability to secure dollars to buy diesel and operate the generators.

“Moreover, Ogero faces problems in installing new internet cables because of the high transportation cost of employees who have to move around between the clients’ houses to offer their services.”

The lifestyle of the Lebanese is undergoing major changes, especially young people who now have to reconsider the time they allocate for talking on the phone and internet use.

Abbas said that coffee shops offering free internet had “significantly raised” their food and beverage prices to provide their customers with this service. “If they start incurring losses, they might start slowing down the internet to reduce its use.”

Rabih said that he and his friends had decided to stay at home to use the home internet for their phone calls and chats, even though the home internet bill had increased from LBP100,000 to more than LBP400,000.

He feared the lifestyle they had become used to might change, and he worried about the state of their education next year if they returned to remote learning.

Telecom services are the only ones falling under the official dollar rate. Other services are priced based on the black market exchange rate, while the remaining subsidized medicines are in line with the Sayrafa platform rate.

But the tariff increases have not triggered any reaction in the streets as happened in 2019 when the Ministry of Telecommunications discussed the possibility of imposing a $6 fee on WhatsApp.

It backtracked on this plan in response to public pressure.


Thousands rally in Sudan day after 9 killed during protests

Thousands rally in Sudan day after 9 killed during protests
Updated 34 min 13 sec ago

Thousands rally in Sudan day after 9 killed during protests

Thousands rally in Sudan day after 9 killed during protests
  • The US and others in the international community condemned the violence in this East African nation
  • Sudanese military authorities have met the protests with a deadly crackdown, which has so far killed 113 people, including 18 children

CAIRO: Thousands took to the streets Friday in Sudan’s capital, a day after nine people were killed in demonstrations against the country’s ruling generals.
The United States and others in the international community condemned the violence in this East African nation, which has been rocked by near-weekly protests since an Oct. 25 coup upended its fragile transition to democracy.
The rallies on Thursdays were the largest seen in months. Sudanese military authorities have met the protests with a deadly crackdown, which has so far killed 113 people, including 18 children.
In and near Khartoum, large funeral marches took place for some of those killed the day before, while others gathered after Friday prayers at mosques in the country’s capital. Online, photographs of the dead were posted, in some cases in an effort to identify them.
The Sudan’s Doctors Committee, a medical group that monitors casualties from demonstrations, said security forces shot and killed nine people, including a child, in or near Khartoum during the rallies on Thursday. The demonstrations coincided with widespread Internet disruptions. Internet monitors and activists say the government has crippled communications to prevent gatherings and slow the spread of news on days when large protest turnout is expected.
Sudan’s leading pro-democracy groups — Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change and the Resistance Committees — had called for nationwide protest against the coup. The takeover upended the country’s short-lived transition to democracy following the 2019 ouster of longtime autocratic ruler Omar Al-Bashir.
Since the coup, the UN political mission in Sudan, the African Union, and the eight-nation east African regional Intergovernmental Authority in Development group have been trying to broker a way out of the political impasse. But talks have yielded no results so far.
In a joint statement tweeted Friday the three bodies expressed “disappointment over the continued use of excessive force by security forces and lack of accountability for such actions, despite repeated commitments by authorities.”
Thursday’s protests also fell on the third anniversary of a 2019 mass rally that forced the generals to sit down at the negotiating table with pro-democracy groups and eventually sign a power-sharing agreement that was expected to govern Sudan during a transitional period, until general elections were to be held. The coup last October scuttled this arrangement.
Western governments have repeatedly called on the generals to allow for peaceful protests, but have also angered the protest movement for sometimes engaging with the leading generals. Pro-democracy leaders call for the generals to leave power immediately.
“We are heartbroken at the tragic loss of life in yesterday’s protests,” the US Embassy in Sudan said in a statement Friday. “We urge all parties to resume negotiations and call on peaceful voices to rise above those who advocate for or commit violence.”
From Geneva, the UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said she was alarmed by Thursday’s killings, especially “after the police had announced they would not use lethal force to disperse the demonstrators.”
“In no case is force permissible to dissuade or intimidate protesters from exercising their rights to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly, or to threaten them with harm for doing so,” she said.
Police said Friday an investigation was launched after a video circulated online, appearing to show security forces prodding and kicking a badly injured protester in the street the day before. According to pro-democracy groups, the protester later died. In a statement released on the website of the country’s state-run news agency, police said the video shows security personnel violating orders to not approach demonstrations with firearms. It said those involved would be held accountable.
The country’s interior ministry, which oversees the police, has continuously denied the use of live fire on protesters, despite evidence from activists and pro-democracy groups to the opposite.


Briton jailed for fatal accident at Cyprus resort

Briton jailed for fatal accident at Cyprus resort
Updated 01 July 2022

Briton jailed for fatal accident at Cyprus resort

Briton jailed for fatal accident at Cyprus resort
  • The Famagusta district court also revoked the tourist's driving licence for 18 months
  • The Briton was involved in the killing of Camilla-Christina Pamdahl

NICOSIA: A Cypriot court jailed a 25-year-old British tourist for one year on Friday after convicting him of the hit-and-run death of a Swedish mother in a holiday resort on the island.
The Famagusta district court also revoked the tourist’s driving license for 18 months but authorities did not release his name.
The Briton was involved in the killing of Camilla-Christina Pamdahl, 46, who was on holiday with her five-year-old daughter, on May 4.
She was the victim of a fatal hit-and-run accident at a pedestrian crossing in the popular resort of Ayia Napa.
The Briton was found guilty of causing death due to a reckless or dangerous act, driving a vehicle under the influence of drugs, abandoning the scene of an accident and failing to report it.
The 25-year-old was driving a rented beach buggy at the time of the accident and fled the scene on foot, leaving the rental vehicle behind.
Police said the driver was nearly five times over the legal alcohol limit of 9 mg with a test reading of 44 mg. He also tested positive for cannabis in his system when arrested.
Ayia Napa is known for attracting partying British tourists every summer.


British government lobbying Iraq for archaeologist’s release: FM Liz Truss

British government lobbying Iraq for archaeologist’s release: FM Liz Truss
Updated 01 July 2022

British government lobbying Iraq for archaeologist’s release: FM Liz Truss

British government lobbying Iraq for archaeologist’s release: FM Liz Truss
  • Fitton’s family has criticized the British government for what it calls a poor response to the case

LONDON: The UK government is lobbying for the release of a British archaeologist imprisoned in Iraq, it was revealed on Thursday.

Jim Fitton was sentenced to 15 years in prison in June for attempting to smuggle artifacts out of the country, a crime that can also carry the death sentence.

Fitton’s family has criticized the British government for what it calls a poor response to the case, however UK foreign secretary Liz Truss told ITV News that work was being carried out to convince the Iraqi government to release the archaeologist.

“I know our ambassador is working on that, as is our ministerial team,” she said. “Ultimately this is a decision for the Iraqi authorities, but we’re doing all we can to secure this release.”

Fitton was found by Iraqi officials with a dozen small stones and bits of pottery from the desert on March 20, and was arrested as he tried to leave the country.

He asserted in his defense that he believed the items to be worthless and was merely taking them as a memento of his trip to Iraq. 

In court, he was charged and convicted — but another man also on trial with him, German national Volker Waldmann, was found not guilty.

Fitton has appealed in a bid to reduce his sentence or have his conviction quashed completely.

Fitton’s local member of parliament, Wera Hobhouse, said the Foreign and Commonwealth Office should have taken a stronger stance with Iraq to ensure his release.

“It seems that German officials took a much tougher stance and intervened a lot earlier, and were much more visible in their opposition, versus the Foreign Office (who) took the approach of softly, softly,” she told ITV.

“We have got two outcomes: One prisoner is now free, and Jim Fitton, our British citizen, is not free.

“So there’s quite a clear contrast, which makes one wonder whether the Foreign Office approach has been correct,” she added.

A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “We are providing consular assistance to a British national in Iraq, and continue to support his family. We are in contact with the local authorities.”


Australian PM Albanese raises case of jailed engineer with Iraqi counterpart Al-Kadhimi

Australian PM Albanese raises case of jailed engineer with Iraqi counterpart Al-Kadhimi
Updated 01 July 2022

Australian PM Albanese raises case of jailed engineer with Iraqi counterpart Al-Kadhimi

Australian PM Albanese raises case of jailed engineer with Iraqi counterpart Al-Kadhimi
  • Robert Pether reportedly gravely ill and rapidly deteriorating
  • UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention says fraud conviction unlawful, also seeks release of Egyptian colleague Khalid Radwan

LONDON: The prime minister of Australia has raised with his Iraqi counterpart the case of an engineer jailed in Baghdad, whose health is worsening in detention, it was reported on Friday.

Anthony Albanese spoke with Mustafa Al-Kadhimi about Robert Pether’s condition, which is “rapidly deteriorating” due to the engineer being “gravely ill,” according to a Guardian report.

Australian Pether has been held in a Baghdad prison for more than 14 months over a deal-gone-wrong between his engineering firm and the central bank of Iraq to build its new headquarters in the capital. According to his family, Pether is not guilty of a crime and his trial was “unfair.”

According to the Guardian report, Pether has been made aware of Albanese’s quizzing of Al-Kadhimi and plans to write a letter of thanks to the Australian premier.

“He is afraid to be ‘hopeful,’” Pether’s wife Desree told the Guardian Australia. “But he is immensely grateful to Anthony Albanese and (foreign minister) Penny Wong for stepping up and taking action pretty much straight away.”

She continued: “Robert is gravely ill, he is completely grey. He is 47 and looks 74. He is also still suffering from dizziness and low blood pressure. He is declining rapidly.”

Al-Kadhimi’s office confirmed a discussion was held with Albanese, but made no reference to the Pether case, only saying the two leaders covered “bilateral relations between the two countries and stressed the importance of strengthening joint cooperation.”

Pether, and Egyptian colleague Khalid Radwan, were arrested on their return to Iraq in April 2021 when they were attempting to resolve a dispute between their firm, CME Consulting, and the Iraqi government.

After their trial, which rights groups have deemed “deeply compromised,” both men were found guilty of fraud, sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to pay back $12 million they were alleged to have misspent instead of paying architects and subcontractors.

Amid allegations of mistreatment in their Baghdad prison, the UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said in a report released in March that both Pether and Radwan’s detention was “arbitrary” and a breach of international law. The group has demanded both men be immediately released.