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How Lebanon’s antiquated citizenship laws deny stateless people and their children basic rights and welfare DUBAI: Speaking in the ramshackle hut he calls a home in the southwest of Beirut, Khodar Khalaf, 58, described his life in four words: “I do not exist.” Khalaf was born in Lebanon to poor parents who died at a…

How Lebanon’s antiquated citizenship laws deny stateless people and their children basic rights and welfare

DUBAI: Speaking in the ramshackle hut he calls a home in the southwest of Beirut, Khodar Khalaf, 58, described his life in four words: “I do not exist.”

Khalaf was born in Lebanon to poor parents who died at a young age. That meant his birth was not registered and he was raised in an orphanage. He should be a Lebanese citizen but he is instead stateless. “I cannot travel, I am not qualified for healthcare and I cannot work. I have no identification papers,” he said.

Khalaf’s case is similar to those of at least 27,000 other people who have fallen through the cracks during a decades-long maelstrom of war, confusion and bureaucratic inertia.

In a country that is fast losing its capacity to look after even its documented citizens, being stateless in Lebanon has become an unbearable curse. With no recourse to state funds or aid, Khalaf is forced to scrounge around to survive.

In addition to the poverty, discrimination and lack of access to the legal avenues or powerful people who could help, the country’s stateless are forced to do whatever they can to scrape by amid an unprecedented economic meltdown that threatens to create a permanent underclass.

According to Siren Associates, a non-governmental organization that advises public-sector clients on governance-reform initiatives, the number of stateless people in the northern city of Tripoli alone stands at around 2,200 — a figure it expects to double over the next 15 years.

In a report titled “The Plight of the Rightless: Mapping and Understanding Statelessness in Tripoli,” originally published in 2019, Siren Associates said some 67 percent of stateless people in the city have Lebanese mothers and 70 percent have Lebanese fathers, yet somehow they still manage to slip through the cracks of a system that ought to protect them.

The report found that in many cases stateless individuals lack basic documentation, such as a birth certificate, that is needed to prove their status, or the financial means or connections to acquire it.

Syrian refugee Rima Jassem holds her newborn girl as she sits with her boys in a small room on the roof of a building overlooking the ravaged port in Lebanese capital Beirut. (AFP/File Photo)

Even in cases where a stateless person marries a documented citizen, their status and that of their children is not always resolved. Under Lebanese law, if a father is stateless his children inherit his legal status, even if their mother is a citizen.

“All my life, I was made to feel less than because my father is Palestinian,” 38-year-old Ahmad, whose mother is Lebanese, told Arab News. “There are so many opportunities I am not afforded, so many job sectors I am not allowed to enter; I cannot even be a taxi driver. I cannot own my own house. I have a four-year-old daughter and she inherited my curse.”

Palestinians in Lebanon have long been deprived of state protections. To prevent them from falling into destitution, the UN Relief and Works Agency offers basic services.

But Ahmad says the UN support is not enough to get by on, especially since the economic collapse in Lebanon began in 2019. Many Palestinians were already confined to camps, denied opportunities to travel and barred from several forms of employment. Now they face even harsher conditions.

People exchange Lebanese pound and US dollar notes on the black market in Lebanon’s capital Beirut. (AFP/File Photo)

One partial solution to the problem would be to change the law so that Lebanese women are allowed to pass on their nationality to their children and spouse.

Such a move has been staunchly opposed by successive governments, however, who view the granting of citizenship as a valuable political tool.

The country’s leaders are often given quotas for dispensing citizenship as a kind of political favor. Under Lebanon’s rigidly sectarian system, this is always done along confessional lines and almost always rewards powerful patrons such as businessmen, not the dispossessed.

In 2018, President Michel Aoun granted Lebanese citizenship to more than 300 people in a process that drew criticism for its lack of transparency and accusations of bribery.

INNUMBERS

* 27,000 – People estimated to be stateless in Lebanon.

* 63% – Proportion of non-registered individuals born to a Lebanese father.

* 76% – Proportion of non-registered individuals born to a Lebanese mother.

* 37% – Proportion of stateless who say they have access to healthcare.

* 58% – Higher unemployment rate over the non-stateless.

* 33% – Proportion of stateless who have received no schooling or other education.

Source: SIREN Associates 2019

Similar allegations were leveled against parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri and the prime minister at the time, Saad Hariri, when they too were given citizenship quotas to dispense. That year, a number of Syrian businessmen with connections to the regime of President Bashar Assad were granted Lebanese nationality.

“Anyone useful to the state, whether a businessman, investors or someone with a good reputation, and whose naturalization would be in Lebanon’s interest is welcome,” Gebran Bassil, leader of the Free Patriotic Movement and son-in-law of the president, said at the time.

However, Bassil remains opposed to changing the law to allow Lebanese mothers to pass on their nationality to their children.

Tentative moves to change the system have met with strong resistance. Toward the end of 2021, Mustafa Bayram, a Hezbollah MP and Lebanon’s minister of labor, announced plans to remove work restrictions on undocumented Palestinians and Lebanese.

The political class was outraged by the announcement, forcing Bayram to make a statement saying his “words were taken out of context” and that “what has been forbidden by law until now will remain the same.”

A man wearing a cross necklace and clad in mask depicting the Lebanese flag stands next to flaming tires at a make-shift roadblock set-up by anti-government demonstrators in the area of Daoura. (AFP/File Photo)

Lina Abou-Habib, a prominent feminist and director of the Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship at the American University of Beirut, has described the Lebanese government an “unapologetically patriarchal regime” as it effectively considers only men to be citizens.

“When you undermine a woman’s right to confer nationality, you undermine a generation’s rights to social services and political participation,” she told Arab News.

“Lebanon remains consistent in denying rights. This requires more than reform; it requires changing the whole system, the whole status quo.”

The country’s political dysfunction is compounded by its economic insolvency. Last week, the Lebanese pound was trading at 33,000 to the dollar, down from 1,500 just over a year ago.

Meanwhile, state subsidies on essential goods such as wheat, benzine and diesel have been chipped away, meaning a full tank of petrol now costs more than the average monthly salary, which inflation has reduced to just $21 in real terms.

Many Lebanese are now almost completely reliant on remittances sent from relatives living abroad. Dollars flowing in from the diaspora have long been a way to supplement an economy largely built on tourism. However, remittance dollars that were once a top up are now essential for many just to get by.

Only 37 percent of stateless people in Lebanon say they have access to healthcare. (Supplied/INSAN)

For the stateless with no access to money from overseas, the situation is growing increasingly desperate. Charitable organizations have been forced to step in where the government has been unable or unwilling to provide help.

“We offer hygiene kits, food distribution, education, legal advice and psychosocial support,” Hassan Bahani, programs manager at Insan Association, told Arab News. “Stateless children and their parents are often victimized and subjected to discrimination, and we offer counseling sessions to children and their parents.”

Charity can only be a short-term solution, however. Theodore Caponis, who led the research by Siren Associates on statelessness, said the denial of proper documentation is a human rights issue that must be urgently resolved.

“Left unaddressed, this issue will trap an ever-growing number of people in a human rights limbo and result in an even bigger challenge to the state,” he said.

Stateless children and their parents are often victimized and subjected to discrimination, Hassan Bahani, programs manager at Insan Association, tells Arab News. (Supplied/INSAN)

“There is an immediate need to simplify and accelerate the process for settling the status of non-registered individuals born to a Lebanese father, and to simultaneously start a nationwide mapping of the stateless population.”

For Khalaf, living in his improvised shelter near the airport, the roar of jets taking off and landing is a constant reminder of his inability to travel. To survive he has resorted to the informal labor market, at times selling boxes of tissues on the roadside.

“The situation is unbearable,” he said. “Five years ago you were able to get by. NGOs had more opportunities to help people like me, neighbors had more means to help as well. But now it seems everyone can barely make ends meet.

“Sometimes I wish I was never born.”

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Serie A on the verge of financial ruin, says Inter CEO Marotta

Formula E champion Nyck de Vries recalls last season’s triumphs and looks forward to another win in Diriyah E-Prix RIYADH: Diriyah will always hold a special place in Nyck de Vries’ heart. It was here, in the north-west of Saudi Arabia’s capital city of Riyadh, that the Dutchman debuted as an ABB FIA Formula E driver…

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Formula E champion Nyck de Vries recalls last season’s triumphs and looks forward to another win in Diriyah E-Prix RIYADH: Diriyah will always hold a special place in Nyck de Vries’ heart. It was here, in the north-west of Saudi Arabia’s capital city of Riyadh, that the Dutchman debuted as an ABB FIA Formula E driver back in 2019. Then, in 2021, he broke another duck in Diriyah, this time the first of his two E-Prix victories to date – one that set the course for De Vries to eventually clinch a dramatic maiden championship for both himself and his team. Last year, under lights for the first time in the series’ history, and swaying between the 21 turns that sweep the street circuit of the UNESCO World Heritage site, there was a real romance to the races in Saudi Arabia. And De Vries – who won the first of February 2021’s season-opening double-header – was one of many that were left captivated. “It’s probably unfair to ask a driver what their favourite track is because we’re biassed, but Diriyah is definitely my favourite track on the calendar,” said De Vries on the eve of the 26-year-old’s first defence of his world title. “It treated me well last year and also in my first Formula E race back in 2019. I really like the layout because it’s twisty but fast at the same time, the slowest corner is not actually considered a slow-speed corner according to Formula E metrics. “I enjoy racing there and competing at night makes it a bit more special and unique, at night everything becomes a bit more intense and there’s more emotion.” In ABB FIA Formula E, all of that intensity, all of that emotion, is played out at speeds of up to 280 km/h and Diriyah’s third year on the E-Prix circuit set the tone for a thrilling championship in 2021. De Vries, who also emerged victorious in Valencia two stops later, eventually held out on the final race of the year to secure the drivers’ championship by just seven points. His efforts helped his Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team seal the double by an even finer margin, with four points all the separated Mercedes and Jaguar Racing by the time the chequered flag fell on the final race in Berlin last August. De Vries and Mercedes are now well-polished outfits going into the 2022 championship, but the same couldn’t be said when they entered ABB FIA Formula E hand-in-hand with Diriyah three years ago. “In 2019, I started my Formula E season before I could end my Formula 2 season so there was very little time for me to adapt and get ready,” De Vries reflected. “I did a test in the summer but I remember that we didn’t have a lot of time. It was still a very new team. Not only was I very much a rookie, but I felt like we all were as a team.” Clearly, both driver and team have come a long way since and there has been no let up for either since becoming the first ABB FIA Formula E winners under the FIA’s banner. After the final race in Berlin last year, De Vries went on to contest two rounds of the European Le Mans Series before the year was out and produced fastest times in testing for both IndyCar and FIA Formula One in December. Having described his team’s pre-Christmas testing in Valencia as going “very smoothly”, De Vries – one of the most sought-after drivers in motorsport – says the variety of his packed personal schedule helps ensure the Uitwellingerga-native remains razor sharp behind the wheel. “The only way to keep myself on my toes is to continue to race,” he explained. “I certainly want to stay in Formula E, no doubt about it. I personally believe that it’s important for a driver to stay active and continue practising racing skills in different disciplines.” Despite heading to Saudi Arabia as champion, De Vries isn’t feeling any extra pressure as he moves from being the hunter to the hunted. He added: “I’m very much looking forward to a new season and a new championship. We’re the reigning champions and I’m looking forward to being in a position to defend those championships. We have a lot of positivity and excitement in our team, we’re growing as a family and I’m very much looking forward to a new season. “There’s always pressure, I’m always nervous and I’m always stressed on race days because I care and I want to do well and I want to deliver. But being the reigning champion doesn’t change anything. I’m very grateful that I was privileged enough to experience winning the championship and everything that comes with it but there’s no added pressure.” With that being said, all eyes will be on De Vries when he returns to Diriyah for the first E-Prix of the new campaign from 28-29 January. He will no doubt be looking to write another memorable chapter of his career at the circuit he loves and, with fans back in the grandstands, De Vries was quick to share some advice for any young Saudis looking to take a leaf out of his book and pursue a career in motorsport. “Follow your passion and your dreams,” said De Vries. “No one has the right to take courage away from you or say something is impossible. “It’s a tough journey if you set yourself a goal and you always keep that in mind and work towards that then hard work pays off and further down the line you will get to where you want to be. It’s not always that straight forward but I’d say follow your passions and your dreams and believe in them.”

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Formula E champion Nyck de Vries recalls last season’s triumphs and looks forward to another win in Diriyah E-Prix

RIYADH: Diriyah will always hold a special place in Nyck de Vries’ heart. It was here, in the north-west of Saudi Arabia’s capital city of Riyadh, that the Dutchman debuted as an ABB FIA Formula E driver back in 2019. Then, in 2021, he broke another duck in Diriyah, this time the first of his two…

RIYADH: Diriyah will always hold a special place in Nyck de Vries’ heart. It was here, in the north-west of Saudi Arabia’s capital city of Riyadh, that the Dutchman debuted as an ABB FIA Formula E driver back in 2019. Then, in 2021, he broke another duck in Diriyah, this time the first of his two E-Prix victories to date – one that set the course for De Vries to eventually clinch a dramatic maiden championship for both himself and his team. Last year, under lights for the first time in the series’ history, and swaying between the 21 turns that sweep the street circuit of the UNESCO World Heritage site, there was a real romance to the races in Saudi Arabia. And De Vries – who won the first of February 2021’s season-opening double-header – was one of many that were left captivated. “It’s probably unfair to ask a driver what their favourite track is because we’re biassed, but Diriyah is definitely my favourite track on the calendar,” said De Vries on the eve of the 26-year-old’s first defence of his world title. “It treated me well last year and also in my first Formula E race back in 2019. I really like the layout because it’s twisty but fast at the same time, the slowest corner is not actually considered a slow-speed corner according to Formula E metrics. “I enjoy racing there and competing at night makes it a bit more special and unique, at night everything becomes a bit more intense and there’s more emotion.” In ABB FIA Formula E, all of that intensity, all of that emotion, is played out at speeds of up to 280 km/h and Diriyah’s third year on the E-Prix circuit set the tone for a thrilling championship in 2021. De Vries, who also emerged victorious in Valencia two stops later, eventually held out on the final race of the year to secure the drivers’ championship by just seven points. His efforts helped his Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team seal the double by an even finer margin, with four points all the separated Mercedes and Jaguar Racing by the time the chequered flag fell on the final race in Berlin last August. De Vries and Mercedes are now well-polished outfits going into the 2022 championship, but the same couldn’t be said when they entered ABB FIA Formula E hand-in-hand with Diriyah three years ago. “In 2019, I started my Formula E season before I could end my Formula 2 season so there was very little time for me to adapt and get ready,” De Vries reflected. “I did a test in the summer but I remember that we didn’t have a lot of time. It was still a very new team. Not only was I very much a rookie, but I felt like we all were as a team.” Clearly, both driver and team have come a long way since and there has been no let up for either since becoming the first ABB FIA Formula E winners under the FIA’s banner. After the final race in Berlin last year, De Vries went on to contest two rounds of the European Le Mans Series before the year was out and produced fastest times in testing for both IndyCar and FIA Formula One in December. Having described his team’s pre-Christmas testing in Valencia as going “very smoothly”, De Vries – one of the most sought-after drivers in motorsport – says the variety of his packed personal schedule helps ensure the Uitwellingerga-native remains razor sharp behind the wheel. “The only way to keep myself on my toes is to continue to race,” he explained. “I certainly want to stay in Formula E, no doubt about it. I personally believe that it’s important for a driver to stay active and continue practising racing skills in different disciplines.” Despite heading to Saudi Arabia as champion, De Vries isn’t feeling any extra pressure as he moves from being the hunter to the hunted. He added: “I’m very much looking forward to a new season and a new championship. We’re the reigning champions and I’m looking forward to being in a position to defend those championships. We have a lot of positivity and excitement in our team, we’re growing as a family and I’m very much looking forward to a new season. “There’s always pressure, I’m always nervous and I’m always stressed on race days because I care and I want to do well and I want to deliver. But being the reigning champion doesn’t change anything. I’m very grateful that I was privileged enough to experience winning the championship and everything that comes with it but there’s no added pressure.” With that being said, all eyes will be on De Vries when he returns to Diriyah for the first E-Prix of the new campaign from 28-29 January. He will no doubt be looking to write another memorable chapter of his career at the circuit he loves and, with fans back in the grandstands, De Vries was quick to share some advice for any young Saudis looking to take a leaf out of his book and pursue a career in motorsport. “Follow your passion and your dreams,” said De Vries. “No one has the right to take courage away from you or say something is impossible. “It’s a tough journey if you set yourself a goal and you always keep that in mind and work towards that then hard work pays off and further down the line you will get to where you want to be. It’s not always that straight forward but I’d say follow your passions and your dreams and believe in them.”

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Family of murdered Yasmin Chkaifi praise ‘hero’ driver who tried to stop attacker

LONDON: A UK Muslim leader said on Tuesday that the findings of a survey on Islamophobia had highlighted “the pervasive nature of the problem” in Britain. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Birmingham, revealed that Islamophobia had passed the so-called dinner table test in being considered suitable for polite conversation and socially acceptable.…

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LONDON: A UK Muslim leader said on Tuesday that the findings of a survey on Islamophobia had highlighted “the pervasive nature of the problem” in Britain. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Birmingham, revealed that Islamophobia had passed the so-called dinner table test in being considered suitable for polite conversation and socially acceptable. Titled, “The Dinner Table Prejudice: Islamophobia in Contemporary Britain,” the survey found that Muslims were the UK’s second least-liked group after gypsy and Irish travelers, with 25.9 percent of the British public feeling negative toward Muslims, and 9.9 percent very negative. Speaking at the report’s launch, Zara Mohammed, the first female secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said Islamophobia was definitely real, contrary to what some people thought, and that it impacted on all aspects of society. “I think what’s really great about this report and its contribution to the body of evidence is that it shows us not just the pervasive nature of the problem but also that Muslims are some of the least-liked people in the population. “In my one year so far as the secretary-general of the MCB, what we have seen is unfortunately a very changing landscape for British Muslims and one that is becoming increasingly hostile. “This is the reality of how Muslims are perceived in everyday Britain, and that is in 2022 as well,” she added. More than one-in-four people quizzed for the survey, and nearly half of Conservative Party supporters and those who voted to leave the EU, held conspiratorial views that “no-go areas” in the UK existed where Shariah law ruled. And 26.5 percent of those questioned agreed with the statement that, “there are areas in Britain that operate under Shariah law where non-Muslims are not able to enter,” the study said. Among Conservative Party voters and those who elected to leave the EU, the figure increased to 43.4 percent. A further 36.3 percent of Brits said they thought that “Islam threatens the British way of life,” and 18.1 percent supported, and 9.5 percent strongly supported, the idea of banning all Muslim migration to the UK. “British people acknowledge their ignorance of most non-Christian religions, with a majority stating they are ‘not sure’ how Jewish (50.8 percent) and Sikh (62.7 percent) scriptures are taught. “In the case of Islam, however, people feel more confident making a judgement, with only 40.7 percent being unsure. This is despite the fact that people are much more likely to make the incorrect assumption that Islam is ‘totally’ literalistic. Prejudice toward Islam is not simply ignorance, then, but miseducation and misrecognition,” the study report added. Mohammed pointed out that Islamophobia had a very real knock-on impact on the everyday lives of Muslims, and she welcomed the academic evidence contained in reports such as the latest one written by Stephen Jones and Amy Unsworth. She noted that it was important to document the problem and share data with policy makers when asking for change. “In some ways it empowers Muslim communities to say, ‘don’t think it’s in your heads, actually something needs to be done.’ “The government’s own evidence on hate crime found that 40 percent of all those facing hate crime were Muslims. This is very much a real problem and I’m hoping that on the back of the work that Prof. Jones has done, we will all be able to benefit from it and use it in our campaigns, activism, and conversations. “Whilst Islamophobia has certainly passed the dinner table test, it’s time for us to be able to move forward and make a real change, and the MCB remains committed to doing that,” Mohammed said. MP Nusrat Ghani speaks during a session in Parliament in London, Britain. (File/Reuters) The survey launch has coincided with news headlines about British Muslim Conservative MP Nusrat Ghani’s claims that her faith was given as a reason for her sacking as a government minister in 2020. She said she was told that her “Muslimness was raised as an issue” at a meeting and that her “Muslim woman minister status was making colleagues feel uncomfortable.” “It was like being punched in the stomach. I felt humiliated and powerless,” she added. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered a Cabinet Office inquiry into the claims. On Ghani’s allegations, Mohammed said they “highlighted just how systemic and institutional the problem of Islamophobia is. It hits hard, and it hits deep.” She added that Islamophobia, “isn’t just in our heads, and just over this weekend we have seen at the heart of politics how this also plays out. “What is actually being done? What is the approach of decision makers to tackling the problem, if any?” She said the MCB had been working to push for the adoption of a definition of Islamophobia developed by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims. According to the APPG definition, Islamophobia was rooted in racism and was a type of racism that targeted expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness. The definition was widely endorsed throughout Muslim communities, political parties, and civil society. However, the ruling Conservative Party rejected the APPG definition in 2019 and said it needed “more consideration.” The late James Brokenshire, Britain’s communities secretary at the time, told the House of Commons that the APPG definition was not in line with the Equality Act 2010, and that two advisers would be appointed to come up with a definition that was. However, an imam appointed by ministers as a key adviser on Islamophobia, said on Monday he had been ignored by No. 10 and Michael Gove, the UK’s secretary of state for housing, communities, and local government. Imam Qari Asim, who was asked to help draw up a definition of Islamophobia, told The Times that he had not received replies to emails and letters that he sent to the government over more than two years since he was appointed.

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