Chaldean Bishop of Lebanon Michael Kassarji speaks during a conference in Baabda, Friday, Feb. 13, 2015. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)
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On a cold morning, a small group of Iraqi refugees cluster together at the Chaldean diocese in Baabda.The Chaldean Diocese of Beirut has provided aid in the form of food, home necessities and cash assistance to needy refugees over the past seven months.Kassarji estimated that around 2,000 Chaldean Iraqi families receive monthly support.With more than 1 million Syrian refugees in the country, the needs of Iraqis have been forgotten, say community leaders and aid organizations.Kassarji added that around 120 people come daily to the health center he funds in Sad al-Boushrieh, a Beirut neighborhood heavily populated with Iraqi refugees.Tensions have simmered between Lebanon's Iraqi and Syrian refugee communities. Funding for Iraqi refugees from international NGOs and U.N. agencies has been squeezed as the number of Syrian refugees has grown.An October 2014 report from Caritas, one of the leading aid organizations addressing Iraqi refugee needs, said that nearly a quarter of those surveyed had entered Lebanon illegally, due to strict visa restrictions. The report found that nearly 40 percent of Iraqi refugees currently reside in Lebanon under an "irregular status," resulting from staying beyond the expiration date of their tourist visas issued upon entering the country.
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