The Middle East is in focus. According to the UNHCR, more than 1,7 million refugees from Syria alone are pouring into other countries in the region; Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and Turkey are all receiving hundreds of thousands of refugees, mostly women and children arriving with “little more than the clothes on their backs.”
The Middle East is also the focus of the ongoing Global Conference on the Right to Rehabilitation, a two-day gathering of civil society, government representatives and academics, co-organized by the IRCT and Restart. Here in Beirut, Lebanon, we heard the voices of those behind the very organisations in the region that are receiving those refugees. And they are struggling.
Lebanon was at the centre of the first day’s final session, where representatives of the Ministries of Public Health, Justice and Interior presented their views and strategies to fight and prevent torture. Local rehabilitation centres welcomed the positive and collaborative approach of the State representatives but “the reality is much worse,” said one participant from Lebanon’s Khiam centre, an IRCT member.
That reality was, in fact, right outside the conference room. The day before, as we drove to Restart Centre for a brief visit, we could see from our cab window the faces of the Syrian refugees right there, seemingly settled on the city’s sidewalks. Beirut alone must deal with more than 100,000 Syrian refugees currently living in the city, mostly in the poorest areas without safe housing or running water.
Our visit to Restart, though, gave us hope. The centre, which works in close collaboration with other civil society organisations and the government, has been running a project directed at Syrian refugees since January. The centre’s young but highly qualified and determined team is doing what they can to cope with the problem, even if that means using unorthodox solutions.
“We’ve built a relationship with Tripoli prison guards. Due to the lack of human resources at the prison, some of the older prisoners protect us while we visit the facilities,” said Ms Eliane Arida, a psychotherapist at Restart.
Although the Conference takes place in Lebanon, it doesn’t mean lessons can’t be taken to other parts of the world. Mr Peter Cum Che Mebang, Executive Director at the Trauma Centre Cameroon, is taking some ideas back on how to get the government involved in the rehabilitation work.
“Here you see the Ministry of Interior declaring publicly that there is torture. That is not the case in my country,” he said.
Today, the Conference will end after taking stock and thinking ahead. But already now, the will of those in the room is evident and the determination to move from a “history of neglect” to action in regards to the right to rehabilitation drives the group as a whole. Here, I can see unity and hope for the movement and for a world without torture.
Editor’s Note: Fábio writes from Beirut, Lebanon, where the global conference on the right to rehabilitation is taking place. The discussion on the right to rehabilitation is set in the context of General Comment 3 to Art 14 of the Convention Against Torture.
The participation of Mr Peter Cum Che Mebang and 10 other participants was funded by the European Commission as part of the IRCTs Non-State Actors (NSA) project.