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Army defends Geitawi raid on migrant workers homes

Syrian man reenact how they were allegedly forced to sit during a Lebanese army raid to their working place, Monday, Oct. 8, 2012. Photo courtesy of Nadim Houry, HRW

BEIRUT: The Lebanese Army Wednesday defended its raid on residences of migrant workers in Beirut, during which dozens of men were beaten, saying it was responding to complaints of harassment, and that its work was “distorted” by the media and activists.

Meanwhile, local residents and mukhtars of Ashrafieh released statements defending the Army’s actions.

“After increasing complaints by citizens in the Ashrafieh/Geitawi neighborhood due to foreigners of different nationalities harassing passersby and carrying out theft and other acts that violate general [ethics], a unit from Army Intelligence last Sunday night backed by a military force raided the residences of the foreigners,” a statement from the Army said.

The Army said it had been met with violence when attempting to check the work permits of the men, and that “as a result of that, beating ... took place.”

Army and military intelligence personnel raided the residences of dozens of migrant workers Sunday evening, restraining and beating them, according to testimony from the workers and local residents heard by The Daily Star and Human Rights Watch.

HRW reported that at least 72 men were subjected to abuse at the hands of the Army during the raids. The Army statement said 11 men had been arrested and referred for investigation, though it did not give reasons for their arrest.

“The leadership of the Army regrets that its work in enforcing security in residential areas following continuous complaints was distorted,” the statement continued, adding that although innocent workers were involved, the rights of local citizens came first.

“[The Army] regrets that any security work might have involved innocent workers, but it rejects the insulting of the [military] institution under the guise of [protecting] the right of foreign workers, because their rights should not come at the expense of male and female citizens who have been assaulted,” the statement read.

Residents and mukhtars of Ashrafieh held meetings Wednesday after which they released statements in support of the Army.

“The mukhtars of Rmeil, Saifi, Medawar and Ashrafieh call on the Army to continue their operations and not be subject to media pressure because the situation in Ashrafieh has become unbearable,” the statement said, accusing foreign workers of being involved in harassment, theft, rape and murder, without identifying specific incidents.

The statement from local residents said: “We are afraid for our children amid the rise of the number of foreign laborers and we call on security forces to strictly carry out their operations to avoid the incidents that have taken place in the past.”

Nadim Houry, the deputy director for Middle East and North Africa at HRW, said the statement was insufficient.

“It doesn’t really answer any of the questions, it just reinforces the idea that nobody has the right to criticize the Army or question it,” he said, adding that specific violations by soldiers must be investigated.

“We’re all for the application of the law, and sexual harassment must be punished, but this was not law enforcement it was collective punishment,” Houry said.

An Army source contacted by The Daily Star said the question of whether there would be an investigation into the incident was an internal Army issue.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 11, 2012, on page 4.

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