Not far from the headquarters of the United Nations Refugee Agency in Lebanon a group of Sudanese men, women, and children have been standing for two weeks. They are refugees who ran away from Darfur to Lebanon several years ago and have since then been complaining of the agency’s “recklessness” in listening to their demands and its failure to “deal seriously” with their pending problems, as they put it.
The men have started an open hunger strike 12 days ago and some of them have already started suffering complications and were transferred to hospital. Others are holding on though displaying signs of severe fatigue like Hamed Mohammed who we met by the agency’s headquarters.
“I feel dizzy and unable to move,” he told Al Arabiya in a low voice as he made an effort to speak. “I have only had water and juice since I started the strike and the heat is making it worse.”
However, he insisted that he will not stop the strike unless the agency listens to his demands.
“I have been in Lebanon for 15 years and till now my status has not been clarified and I was not issued a document that proves I am a refugee.”
Settling the pending status of undocumented refugees who had to escape war and/or persecution in their homeland has become a growing demand. Sudanese refugees in Lebanon are also demanding that they be transferred to another country since Lebanon does not neutralize refugees and is not a signatory to the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.
“Because of our undetermined status, we are not able to send our children to school,” Haroun Abdul Aziz, another striking Sudanese refugee, told Al Arabiya. “The agency is not even doing the minimum.”
Abdul Aziz, who has been in Lebanon for seven years, said that he has not been receiving any support from the agency since 2009.
“Our status does not allow [us to] work, but we have to do so clandestinely to support our families after the agency abandoned us.”
This strike, Abdul Aziz explained, is not the first for he and his fellow refugees have done that several times before to put pressure on the agency.
“Every time the agency makes promises and accordingly we end our strike then nothing happens. This time we will not give up until the agency responds to our demands.”
The U.N. Refugee Agency spokesperson in Lebanon Dana Suleiman said the agency is doing its best to respond to the refugees’ demands.
“But regarding their transfer request, the countries to which they are transferred are still studying their cases and this explains the delay,” she told Al Arabiya. “The agency is as concerned about that as the refugees are, but we cannot offer a fast solution at the moment.”
In addition to not being able to secure their basic needs like food, shelter, education, and health care, refugees are always risking being arrested by Lebanese security even if they carry a document indicating their status.
“I was arrested twice,” said one of the Sudanese refugees who spoke on condition of anonymity. “I showed the policeman a document to prove I am a refugee and this made no difference. Here they only acknowledge residency permits.”
He added that one of those two times, he was sentenced to one month in jail yet was only able to get out seven months later.
“The agency did not get in touch with the Lebanese authorities except after seven months.”
According to Suleiman, the agency is following up on the cases of detained refugees.
“We are also putting pressure on the relevant authorities in Lebanon in order to reach a formula that offer protection for all refugees on Lebanese territories.”
Despite all previous and current promises, Sudanese refugees taking part in the sit-in insisted that they will not end their strike until their demands are met.
The strike has also extended to 11 detained Sudanese refugees have also abstained from eating at the same time as their compatriots in front of the U.N. Refugees Agency.
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)