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Iraqi Christian refugees protest against UNHCR resettlement delays 

Dozens of Iraqi Christians in Lebanon protested in central Beirut this week, demanding the UN to grant them quicker resettlement abroad.

Between 150 and 200 demonstrators gathered outside a UN building, carrying placards that read: “the future of our children is wasted” and “our only demand is to [go] to countries that respect humans,” among others.

Lebanon has received thousands of Iraqis as violence has intensified in their home country. Iraqi Christians have sought refuge in multi-faith Lebanon, especially since Islamic State seized Christian-majority areas of Iraq in 2014.

The protesters on 13 February sought to highlight their vulnerability as religious minorities. Further placards read: “We will not return to a country where we’re being oppressed because of our Christianity. We want stability in a country that respects us.”

The UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that between 40,000 and 50,000 Iraqis are living as refugees in Lebanon, and many want to leave the region and be resettled in a third country.

A spokeswoman for the agency told the Lebanese Daily Star that overseas refugee resettlement can take up to three years and must be handled by a UN agency.

“We understand the frustration of the refugees that are living in very difficult conditions,” she said. “Unfortunately, we work with very limited quotas and globally only 1 per cent of the refugee population is resettled. We’re hoping to reach much more than that, especially for refugees in Lebanon.”

A report by an alliance of Christian NGOs working in the Middle East published last month noted that UNHCR’s work in Lebanon was only two-thirds funded, and that many refugees there, especially Christians, remain unregistered. The report, Ensuring Equality, added that Iraqi Christians in Lebanon tend to live outside UN camps “for social and security reasons” but are becoming impoverished through having to rent accommodation privately while being barred from working.

Syriac Orthodox Archbishop Mor Yostinos Boulos Safar, who oversees his Church’s presence in the Lebanese city of Zahle, is quoted as saying: “The UN doesn’t really help Christian families; they are cast out from their help.”

The local Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop, Isaam John Darwish, said he appealed to the UN to register more people but officials left after three weeks.

The number of resettlements could fall further. US President Donald Trump’s executive order put on hold a programme under which the US agreed to take in 2,500 refugees from any nationality living in Lebanon. However the executive order has been suspended and could face a lengthy battle in the US Supreme Court.

(Source: World Watch Monitor)

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