Suram Nostar is a 61-year-old Iraqi refugee who fled his country in 2010.
He said that an extremist group threatened to kill him if he didn't shut
down his venue in Baghdad which served alcoholic beverages. When he
refused, the same group came back and put a gun to his head. "They told
me that I had to leave Iraq and never return. I had no choice but to
sell all my belongings and escape to Lebanon," Nostar told The Daily
Star. "I have been stranded in this country now for almost six years."
the 2003 American-led invasion, Iraq has been locked in a cycle of
violence. According to Iraq Body Count -- a Web-based project designed
to record the number of civilian deaths in the country -- nearly 30,000
people have been killed in the last two years alone.
vacuum in a post-Saddam Iraq has consequently forced thousands of people
to flee the country. In 2007, international agencies estimated that
over 50,000 Iraqis had fled to Lebanon. Newcomers have also arrived as
early as last year. And while many have been resettled elsewhere, aid
assistance and resettlement spaces have withered for those who remain in
Eliana Haddad, a senior social worker at the Caritas
Lebanese Migrant Center, said that the eruption of the Syrian crisis had
diverted much of the world's attention from the suffering of Iraqis in
"The lack of funds and resources given to Iraqis in
Lebanon from the international community has created tensions between
them and Syrian refugees," she told The Daily Star. "We see tensions
escalate mostly in schools where kids from both nationalities sometimes
abuse each other."
Job opportunities are equally scarce, as many
Iraqis, like other refugees, must now compete in an oversaturated black
market to earn an income. According to a Human Rights Watch report
released Tuesday, this is largely because the government has implemented
harsher work restrictions on Syrians, forcing those who are most
desperate to accept far below the minimum wage.
adviser to Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas, said the new visa and
work regulations enforced on Syrians at the break of January 2015 didn't
discriminate against them or hurt other refugees, but merely ensured
that Syrians adhered to the same requirements as other foreigners in the
"I don't know about any tensions between Syrian and
Iraqi refugees," Helou told The Daily Star over the phone. "The real
issue though isn't the new working conditions on Syrians, but the
complete lack of international and donor support to refugees in
The lack of support Iraqis receive is most apparent by
the few resettlement slots available for them. In 2009, the Council of
the European Union resettled only 10,000 Iraqi refugees, a number that
amounts to a fraction of the total refugee crisis caused from the
Resettlement quotas have become even more
limited as only Canada and the United States still consider granting
Iraqis asylum. However, their conditions for doing so are much more
exclusive than the criteria outlined in the 1951 refugee convention --
the key legal document that defines who qualifies as a refugee.
to this protocol, a refugee is anyone unable to return to their country
due to a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race,
religion, nationality, membership to a certain social group or political
opinion. Yet most countries that typically receive refugees have their
own additional criteria when granting asylum.
Nostar said that
after he applied to the United States through UNHCR, only his three
eldest children were admitted in 2013 -- all of whom were over the age
of 18 by the time they were granted asylum.
Though separated from
his children he expected to join them in America soon. That was until he
and the rest of his family were rejected for reasons he couldn't
understand. After all, he and his children reported practically the very
same story as to why they fled Iraq together.
Dana Sleiman, a
public information officer for UNHCR, said that each asylum case for
people over the age of 18 is determined on an individual basis. And
while their agency only adhered to the 1951 convention, they have to
consider the criteria from refugee-receiving countries to accelerate the
resettlement process as fast as they can.
"Even if asylum
claimants are part of the same family that doesn't mean they always have
the same story," Sleiman told The Daily Star over the phone. "But it's
true that some countries have very nuanced criteria for accepting
When the Syrian crisis broke out in 2011, many Iraqis
there fled to Lebanon to escape another harrowing war. And though
they've been uprooted for a second time, they too have very little
recourse to live a dignified life in Lebanon.
The fact that most
Iraqis, like Syrian refugees, are unable to fulfill practically
impossible visa renewal requirements doesn't help. Instead, it only
leaves them more vulnerable to exploitation and imprisonment.
is an issue that HRW raised in Tuesday's report stating that "these
residency regulations are making life impossible for refugees in Lebanon
and are pushing them underground." "The last thing Lebanon needs is a
large, undocumented community living at the margins of society, at
heightened risk of abuse," said Nadim Houry, HRW's deputy Middle East
For Nostar, however, that's the last issue he's worried
about. And while he struggles to survive in Lebanon, he insists that he
won't rely on a human smuggler to leave the country. Brushing his
moustache with his wrinkled hands, he continues to wait aimlessly until
he can see his children again.
"I entered Lebanon officially and I
will leave Lebanon officially," Nostar said. "But right now we feel
abandoned by the world. Why did America take our children and leave the
rest of us behind?"