The Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) is a local non-profit, non-partisan Lebanese human rights organization in Beirut that was established by the Franco-Lebanese Movement SOLIDA (Support for Lebanese Detained Arbitrarily) in 2006. SOLIDA has been active since 1996 in the struggle against arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance and the impunity of those perpetrating gross human violations.

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March 4, 2015

The Daily Star - Many Assyrians unable to enter Lebanon, March 04, 2015

Samya Kullab

The actual number of Assyrian Christian refugees coming to Lebanon from embattled areas in northeast Syria was unclear Tuesday, as sources within the community claimed some families were stranded on the border despite an Interior Ministry decision to facilitate their entry. A General Security spokesperson denied allegations that fleeing families had been prevented from entering Lebanon. “There is a regular routine administrative procedure that they have to follow in order to enter Lebanon,” Nabil Hannoun said. “No one is being blocked.”

The spokesperson said Assyrians were not left stranded at the border and that many were allowed into the country Monday night.

The National News Agency reported that 17 Assyrian Christians crossed at Lebanon’s Masnaa, but whether those permitted entry were asylum seekers from Hassakeh province, northeast Syria, or coming to Lebanon for short-stay purposes was unclear Tuesday.

A priest engaged in humanitarian relief efforts with the community put the number of Assyrian refugees permitted to enter Lebanon in recent days at just two families. The Social Affairs Ministry, tasked with registering refugees, was also unable to confirm exact numbers.

Last week the Interior Ministry announced it would instruct General Security to facilitate the entry of Assyrians fleeing an ISIS onslaught in Hassakeh, after an activist group reported that at least 220 Assyrian Christians were abducted from their homes along the Khabur River by the militant group.

Thousands more have fled their homes to avoid capture.

Since the announcement, Assyrians in Lebanon have worked tirelessly through their church and the Syriac Union Party to provide relief for incoming refugees.

The Assyrian Church in Hassakeh is coordinating with its counterpart in Lebanon over individuals who are planning to seek asylum in the country. The church, in turn, is relaying the information to the Social Affairs Ministry.

“The church inside Syria is making sure those coming have the required documents as requested by the Interior Ministry,” Hala al-Helou of the Social Affairs Ministry said.

But a source close to the Assyrian Church in Lebanon said they were in touch with families who claimed to be stuck on the border.

“Those who have been allowed to enter had appointments with embassies in Lebanon and only intend to stay for a short period,” the source said.

“Families coming from Khabur have been waiting for hours.”

The source cited the case of a family of three, including a 6-month-old child, who arrived from Khabur to Masnaa 2 a.m. Tuesday and waited 18 hours before they were granted an entry permit valid for one week only. The family refused several interview requests, citing their sensitive residency status.

Helou, whose ministry is working with the UNHCR at official crossings to register incoming refugees, said four Assyrian families had arrived to the border without documentation late Monday.

“Representatives from the Assyrian Church contacted the Interior Ministry and we coordinated together to help them get in,” she told The Daily Star.

The journey from Hassakeh to Masnaa requires Assyrians to take a domestic flight from Qamishli to Damascus, and from there a taxi or bus to the crossing.

Once they arrive, Assyrian refugees typically seek assistance from their church, said Syrian Union Party President Ibrahim Mrad. The majority will stay with relatives in Lebanon, he added.

Lebanese officials have generally welcomed calls to allow Assyrian Christians to enter Lebanon from Syria, despite a months-old ban on accepting new refugees.

Free Patriotic Movement chief and MP Michel Aoun called on the Lebanese authorities to facilitate the entry of Assyrians in a news conference Tuesday, warning that Christians are being systematically uprooted from the region.

“I implore the world’s conscience to help resolve the conflict which is threatening the existence of Christians,” Aoun said.

“We do not want [Christians] to take refuge in Europe or anywhere else ... It is a felony to treat in that way the people who have lived in the Levant [for centuries]. Today there is a systematic uprooting of Christians from the Orient,” he added.

Aoun, who made the comments after a meeting with a delegation of Maronite archbishops, said a special committee would be set up to provide assistance to the displaced Assyrian families and facilitate their residence in Lebanon.

He urged the Lebanese administration to facilitate entry and residence paperwork, rather than blocking the fleeing families.

“History witnessed many instances of the eradication of Christians [in the Middle East] and today the tragedy is recurring through displacement,” Aoun added.

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