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Iraqi refugees in Lebanon face crisis

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  • Report paints bleak future for Iraqi refugees in Lebanon
  • Human Rights Watch says Iraqi refugees live in constant fear of arrest
  • There are an estimated 50,000 Iraqi refugees living in Lebanon
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(CNN) -- A humanitarian organization has issued a report on the rocky predicament of Iraqi refugees in Lebanon, saying authorities in that Middle Eastern nation "arrest Iraqi refugees without valid visas and detain them indefinitely to coerce them to return to Iraq,"

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An Iraqi refugee family sit in their small damp apartment in Beirut, Lebanon.

Human Rights Watch on Tuesday published 66-page report, "Rot Here or Die There: Bleak Choices for Iraqi Refugees in Lebanon." The report "documents the Lebanese government's failure to provide a legal status for Iraqi refugees in Lebanon and details the impact of this policy on the refugees' lives," the group said.

"Iraqi refugees in Lebanon live in constant fear of arrest," said Bill Frelick, refugee policy director for Human Rights Watch. "Refugees who are arrested face the prospect of rotting in jail indefinitely unless they agree to return to Iraq and face the dangers there."

The Iraqi refugee and displaced person crisis has become a monumental problem, even though Iraqi and international officials have noted a trickle of returnees. For example, the Iraqi Red Crescent Organization issued a report dated Friday that 25,000 Iraqis have returned to their home country from Syria from mid-September to the end of November in part because security in Iraq appears to be improving.

But the U.N. refugee agency, citing government estimates, says there are "some 2.2 million Iraqi refugees -- including some 500,000 in Jordan and up to 1.5 million in Syria. An estimated 2.4 million are displaced inside Iraq."

The numbers in Lebanon are relatively small, with an estimated 50,000 Iraqi refugees there. And that country has long been populated by 250,000 to 300,000 Palestinian refugees.

Human Rights Watch says "Lebanon's refusal to legalize the stay of Iraqi refugees affects not just the relatively small proportion of Iraqi refugees who are arrested and detained," adding that there 580 Iraqis detained in Lebanon.

"As a result of this policy, most Iraqi refugees in Lebanon live in fear of arrest. Without legal status in Lebanon, Iraqi refugees are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse by employers and landlords."

The group wants the Lebanese government to provide "temporary legal status that would provide, at a bare minimum, renewable residence and work permits."

The agency says most of the Iraqi refugees in Lebanon "are prohibited from working, and many have run out of their savings." Many can't send their children to school because they can't afford supplies and clothes and because families need the children to work in order to bring in income.

"Lebanon is not the cause of the Iraqi refugee crisis, and Lebanese are understandably wary of hosting yet another refugee influx," said Nadim Houry, the Beirut-based Lebanon researcher for Human Rights Watch.

"The United States and other countries that participated in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq must share the burden of caring for Iraqi refugees in Lebanon and provide durable solutions on their behalf." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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