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Lebanon: COVID-19 laws put refugees at risk, says HRW

Lebanon has introduced discriminatory restrictions on Syrian refugees that do not apply to Lebanese residents  as part of its effort to combat COVID-19

A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report has accused Lebanon of introducing laws in response to the coronavirus outbreak which put refugees at risk.

The report alleges that at least 21 municipalities in Lebanon have imposed restrictions on Syrian refugees which do not apply to Lebanese residents, a move which the watchdog says “[undermines] the country’s public health response”.

Adding that eight municipalities imposed curfews on Syrian refugees in early March, before the government introduced nationwide containment measures.

According to HRW, municipal authorities in the village of Brital, in eastern Lebanon, only allow Syrians to move around between 9am and 1pm, and only then to perform “necessary” tasks such as frequenting the pharmacy or supermarket.

Authorities have threatened Syrians with legal action and the confiscation of documentation if they violate the curfew.

In contrast, the government only imposed a daily curfew between 7pm and 5am for the rest of the country, in late March.

HRW refugee rights researcher Nadia Hardman said, “there is no evidence that extra curfews for Syrian refugees will help limit the spread of COVID-19”.

Adding that “the coronavirus does not discriminate, and limiting the spread and impact of COVID-19 in Lebanon requires ensuring that everyone is able to access testing and treatment centres”.

READ: EU approves $262m aid package for Syria refugees effected by coronavirus outbreak

The watchdog says Syrian refugees have raised concerns about their ability to access healthcare and information relating to protecting themselves from infection.

Noting that arbitrary curfews “risk the virus spreading if Syrians are too scared to seek medical help after 1pm”.

Human rights groups have repeatedly accused the Lebanese government of maltreatment of refugees, including pressuring Syrian’s to return through coercion and a programme of, ostensibly, voluntary returns.

Qatar-based news outlet Al Jazeera reported in late March that undocumented people in Lebanon, including refugees, have been barred access to free testing, and ordered to pay as much as 750,000 Lebanese Lira (approximately $498) to cover the cost of the procedure.

Lebanon hosts between 1.5 and two million Syrian refugees, with only one million of them officially registered with the United Nations (UN), leaving hundreds of thousands potentially unable to get appropriate healthcare.

Health Minister Hamad Hasan said the responsibility for refugee health care should be shared by the Lebanese government and by UN agencies, which currently subsidise the costs of basic care.

Hasan has criticised the international community for being slow to respond to the crisis and help countries, such as Lebanon, which host large numbers of refugees.

The HRW has called on Lebanon, which is party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), to adhere to its obligations under the agreement, to seek to ensure the protection of “everyone in its territory, without discrimination”.

READ: False claims get pets poisoned in Lebanon 

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