Quick Facts

Prisons used for the detention of immigrants: 22 (2010)

Dedicated migrant detention facility: 1 (2010)

Max. length of detention: No Limit

Pending asylum applications: 524 (end 2008)

Last updated: July 2010

Lebanon Detention Profile


Detention Policy

Detention Infrastructure

Facts & Figures


Although Lebanon does not consider itself to be a country of refuge, it has hosted some 500,000 refugees and asylum seekers, including more than 400,000 Palestinians, most of whom are registered with the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The country has been a destination or transit state for immigrants and asylum seekers from across the globe, including Sudan, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Bangladesh, the Philippines, India, Iraq, Pakistan, Nepal, Tanzania, and Syria (CLDH 2010, p.61; UNHCR 2010). Lebanese authorities use ordinary prisons to incarcerate both irregular migrants and asylum seekers, who are generally charged with criminal violations because of their immigration status. After completing prison sentences, migrants are held in administrative detention until they can be deported. There is no established maximum limit on the duration of administrative detention. Lebanon is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol.


Detention Policy


Article 8 of the Lebanese Constitution states, "No one may be arrested or detained except as provided for by law, no breach or penalty may be established other than by law." According to this article, any deprivation of liberty that occurs without legal justification or without the sanction of an appropriate legal authority should be considered arbitrary. Nevertheless, observers contend that Lebanon frequently arbitrarily confines foreign nationals in administrative detention (FRA 2008, p.15;  CLDH 2010, p.44)


The Law Regulating the Entry and Stay of Foreigners in Lebanon and their Exit from the Country (1962) contains provisions for the treatment of irregular immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers (Law of Entry and Exit). While Article 26 of the Law of Entry and Exit grants non-citizens the right to request political asylum if their life or freedom are in danger for political reasons, Article 32 provides for criminal charges and penalties against people who enter Lebanon without authorization, even if seeking asylum. The same criminal penalties apply to those who enter Lebanon legally but who then overstay their visas. All of these people are considered to be irregular migrants who are subject to criminal imprisonment, fines, and deportation.


There does not appear to be any standard practice or policy with respect the detention and criminal prosecution of non-citizens who cross Lebanese borders in an irregular manner. In one case in 2007, Human Rights Watch reported that when a group of 13 individuals was detected crossing into Lebanon irregularly, six of them were charged with illegal entry while two were detained and later released (HRW 2007, p.41). 


According to a 2010 report from a Lebanese human rights group, of the 5,154 who spent time in Lebanese prisons during April-September 2009, some 415 had been arrested for illegal entry or stay in the country (CLDH 2010, p.52). Nearly 15 percent of these inmates (all non-citizens) had already completed criminal sentences but remained in prison; 81 percent had been convicted of illegal entry or stay in the country (CLDH 2010, p.61).


Grounds for deportation. According to Article 89 of the Lebanese Criminal Code, “A foreigner against whom a deportation order has been issued must leave Lebanese territory by his own means within 15 days. Any breach of a judicial or administrative deportation measure shall be punishable by imprisonment for a term of between one and six months” (FRA 2006, p.31)


Grounds for detention. Non-citizens who enter Lebanon without proper authorization or overstay visas can be placed in administrative detention or charged with crimes leading to criminal incarceration. Foreign nationals who are charged with criminal violations stemming from their immigration status can face three distinct stages of incarceration: pre-trial detention; imprisonment to serve a criminal sentence; and administrative detention while awaiting removal from the country after the completion of criminal sentences (HRW 2007, p.28,32).


According to Article 18 of the Law of Entry and Exit, the director general of General Security is authorised to detain a foreigner administratively with approval of the public prosecutor until his/her deportation. Article 17 stipulates that the state can hold foreigners in detention in order to establish their identity prior to their appearance before a court. In addition, on the basis of an administrative decision by the director of General Security, a removal order can be issued to a non-citizen on the grounds that his/her continued presence is a threat to general safety and security.


Length of detention. The length of time a person remains in detention and/or incarceration can vary depending on whether a non-citizen is criminally charged. According to the Criminal Procedure Code, detention prior to a hearing before a magistrate should not exceed 48 hours, which is renewable once (CLDH 2010, p. 53). However, rights groups claim that police do not always respect these limits and that migrants are detained for unauthorized entry or presence in the country for an average initial period of 16 days (CLDH 2010, p.55).


Criminal sentences for unauthorized entry and stay in the country (including for people seeking asylum) is between one and three months, and includes a fine and deportation (Law of Entry and Exit, Article 32).


Rights advocates have criticized Lebanon for criminally charging asylum seekers, noting that this practice violates Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In practice, as noted by one observer, Iraqi refugees convicted of illegal entry are sentenced to the minimum prison sentence of one month, in addition to a fine and deportation (HRW 2007, p.28). Fines appear to be arbitrarily set by judges, but can be as high as 300.000LL (or roughly US$200) (HRW 2007, p.28). Iraqi refugees have often opted to serve extra prison time instead of paying the fines (HRW 2007, p.28).


There is no limit to the amount of time a person can spend in administrative detention. In some cases, migrants have been detained for years (CLDH 2010, p.44).


A 2004 government Circular (n. 4662) stated that a foreigner incarcerated in Lebanon must be transferred to an administrative detention centre run by the General Security at the end of his/her sentence in order to regularize his/her situation or carry out removal orders. However, the lengthy judicial process migrants are subject to before deportation has led to acute overcrowding at the detention centre and prevents many non-citizens from being transferred there. Thus, large numbers of non-citizens who have completed their prison sentences remain in prisons until deported (CLDH 2010, p.44).


Claims of arbitrary detention. Some advocates in Lebanon have charged that Lebanon’s sole dedicated immigration detention centre—the General Security Retention Centre—operates without an adequate legal mandate. According to the Lebanese Centre for Human Rights (CLDH), “’administrative’ detention as practiced today under the prerogatives of the General Security does not exist in the Lebanese law and can be classified in category I of arbitrary detentions as defined by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.” (Despite this claim by CLDH, it seems that domestic law does provide for at least some forms of administrative detention of non-citizens. As pointed out above, under Article 18 of the Law of Entry and Exit, the director general of General Security is authorised to detain a foreigner administratively with approval of the public prosecutor until his/her deportation. Article 17 stipulates that the state can hold foreigners in detention in order to establish their identity prior to their appearance before a court. In addition, on the basis of an administrative decision by the director of General Security, a removal order can be issued to a non-citizen on the grounds that his/her continued presence is a threat to general safety and security.)


Additionally, according to the Lebanese Centre for Human Rights, “asylum seekers and refugees are illegally detained in this retention center, or in the Lebanese prisons awaiting their transfer to the retention center, whom the General Security considers for unclear reasons as unregulated and are kept detained indefinitely in order to force them to sign their deportation to their countries of origin” (CLDH 2010, p.44).


In 2008, the advocacy group Frontiers Ruwad Association found that arbitrary detention is commonplace in Lebanon and that it is used “as a policy to deter refugees from coming and/or staying in the country. Yet, and despite that arbitrary detention is a serious crime, the issue has not become a major concern to the defenders of human rights in the country, let alone to the legislature and the judiciary that have the legal obligation to guarantee and protect personal liberties and security” (FRA 2008, p.15).


Responding to the criticism, Lebanon’s Interior Minister argued that if migrants and asylum seekers were released, they would be stopped at checkpoints by the General Security forces or army and re-detained. They are held, he claims, in order to facilitate deportation or UNHCR processing for resettlement in a third country (FRA 2010; Khayat 2010).


Access to detainees. In 2002, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between the Lebanese authorities and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) allowing the ICRC to visit all Lebanese prisons except the Ministry of Defence (MoD) Detention Center (CLDH 2010, p.43). In February 2007, a new protocol was signed allowing ICRC to work in all Lebanese prisons, including MoD facilities (CLDH 2010, p.43). A unique MOU was signed between Caritas Lebanon (CL) and the Lebanese General Security (GS) allowing CL to provide social, medical, and legal assistance to all non-citizen detainees in Lebanese (CL 2009, pp. 6-7). According to an MOU between UNHCR and Lebanese authorities, the latter is to notify UNHCR of asylum seekers detained at its premises (USCRI 2008). UNHCR and nongovernmental organizations have access to detained refugees and asylum seekers (CLDH 2010, p.44; USCRI 2008; HRW 2007, p. 28, 66).


Court rulings on detention in Lebanon. In 2001, a Beirut court overturned a deportation order issued against an Iraqi national who entered Lebanon without authorization. The court found that returning the Iraqi national to his country of origin would violate Lebanon’s obligations under Article 3 of the Convention against Torture (for more details see the case of Sajid Ilia in (CLDH 2010,p.26).


The General Prosecutor has determined in several other cases that continued detention beyond completion of a criminal sentence is unnecessary to ensure the execution of deportation orders (See cases of Nadim Abd Almalik, Anderani Tiaritchi, and Heilani Beidani in CLDH 2010, p.43,44).


Lebanese courts have also found the continued detention of four Iraqis who had finished serving their sentences to be illegal under Lebanese law and under Lebanon's international obligations (judgement of Juge des Referes of Zahle in the case of Yusra al-Amiri, 11 December 2009; judgement of Juge des Referes of Mount Lebanon in the case of Riad Ali Jawad Hashem, 28 January 2010; judgement of Juge des Referes of Mount Lebanon in the case of Wisam Samah Fazza` al-Yusef, 28 January 2010; judgement of Juge des Referes of Mount Lebanon in the case of Maytham Jawad al-Bay`i, 28 January 2010; HRW 2010a).


Despite these rulings, the General Security had released only one of the four Iraqis as of early 2010 (HRW 2010b).


Asylum seekers. Asylum seekers are reportedly frequently subject to the same treatment as irregular migrants (HRW 2010b). On 9 September 2003, the Regional Office of UNHCR and the General Directorate of the General Security signed a Memorandum of Understanding which allows asylum seekers to apply for refugee status with UNHCR’s Lebanon office. Lebanon is not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, and therefore only permits resettlement of UNHCR recognised refugees in third countries. The MOU stipulates that the term ”asylum seeker” shall mean “a person seeking asylum in a country other than Lebanon.” According to this MOU, the General Security must notify UNHCR of all refugees and asylum seekers being detained on its premises, and the UNHCR identity cards do not offer immunity against arrest and detention (FR 2004,p.9). In practice, Lebanese authorities frequently detain asylum seekers on grounds of unauthorized entry or stay, false identity/declaration, and unauthorized stay and work (HRW 2010b; UNHCR 2007).


Domestic workers. As with other countries in the Middle East (see also the Bahrain country profile), Lebanon has been harshly criticized for the treatment of domestic workers (IOM 2010). Contracts with domestic workers are exempt from Lebanese labour law and thus can be established directly between the employer and the worker (Young 2000). These contracts frequently lead to abusive situations in which workers do not receive a minimum salary, do not have a maximum number of working hours, are not guaranteed vacation periods, are denied accident or end-of-work compensation, and lack the right to join labour unions (Young 2000; Jureidini & Moukarbel 2000).


The employer, who is responsible for securing the migrant worker’s work permit and whose name is marked in the migrant worker’s passport (Young 2000; Jureidini 2002, p.4), often demands that workers hand over their passports upon arrival (CLDH 2010, p.69-70; Jureidini 2002, p. 5).


Migrant workers who give up their passport to their employer are liable to arrest and detention for illegal stay in the country should they try to change employer or flee the place of employment. In some cases, they have been detained for several months (CLDH 2010, p.69). In one case reported by the IRIN news service in April 2009, 80 Ethiopian women had spent more a year in the Tripoli Women’s Prison, accused of not having a passport. A researcher from a Lebanese nongovernmental organization told IRIN, “The reason these women continue to sit in detention is because the employer doesn’t want to pay for the girl’s ticket home, General Security [Lebanese intelligence] doesn’t have the money, and often their embassies are unaware of their detention” (cited in IOM 2010).


Many observers have reported high death tolls among migrant domestic workers in Lebanon (HRW 2008; FR 2006, p.70; Mahdawi 2009). IRIN cites an HRW report which claims that as of early 2009 more than one domestic worker was dying in Lebanon per week because of suicide or perilous efforts at escaping their work situations (cited in IOM 2010).


Because of the grave working conditions faced by domestic labourers in Lebanon, many countries have reportedly taken steps to prevent their citizens from working there, including Nepal, the Philippines, Ethiopia, and Madagascar (al-akhbar 2009).


In early 2009, the Lebanese government promised to introduce reforms, including limiting the number of working hours for domestic labourers and imprioving contracts ( IOM 2010; al-akhbar 2009).


Lebanon is not a party to the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (CPRMW). The Sub-Committee on Human Rights has criticised Lebanon for violating Article 21 of this convention, which stipulates that it is unlawful for anyone other than a public official duly authorized by law, to confiscate, destroy, or attempt to destroy any official migrant document (WGCFS 2000, para. 68).



Detention Infrastructure


Although Lebanon has one dedicated immigration detention centre—the General Security Retention Centre—irregular migrants and asylum seekers are generally prosecuted and then incarcerated in one of the country’s nearly two dozen prisons (FRA 2008, p.7; World Prison Brief 2010). Once non-citizens have completed their sentences, they typically remain in detention until deported, either at the prison where they served their criminal sentence or at the General Security Retention Centre (HRW 2010b).


Prisons generally do not segregate administrative and criminal detainees; however, some observers have claimed that—aside from a few notable exceptions (see, for example, Roumieh prison, below)—Lebanon abides by international standards with respect to separating men and women, and minors and adults (HO 2006, p.19; HRW 2007, p.28; IRIN 2007; CLDH 2010, p.38).


Immigration detention center. Located in the center of Beirut, Lebanon’s only dedicated immigration detention centre, the General Security Retention Centre, is supposed to be used uniquely to hold “criminal aliens” after they have completed prison sentences and are awaiting expulsion from the country (Circular n. 4662/2004). Observers have severely criticized conditions at the centre. Up to 450 people have been held at the facility at one time, cramped into 13 cells, each 40m2. Three of these are used to hold women and one is used to detain families, including children (CLDH, p. 46).


One rights group has calculated that each detainee at the detention centre has roughly one square metre (CLDH 2010, p.46). There is no yard for outside recreation, water is available no more than two hours per day, detainees are handcuffed when they leave their cells, and there is little or no contact with the outside world (CLDH 2010, pp. 46-47). The centre is operated by General Security, which is a part of the Ministry of the Interior and has custody over the non-citizens in administrative detention, including foreign nationals held in prisons after having completed their criminal sentences (FRA 2008, pp. 41-42).


Prison system. The largest prison in Lebanon is the Roumieh prison, located in greater Beirut. It is the central prison for adult and minor males, and it is under the authority of the Internal Security Forces (ISF) of the Ministry of Interior, which administers all of Lebanon’s prisons. A representative of an international organization who visited the facility in 2009 told the Global Detention Project that during his visit there were “a significant number of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants” confined at the facility, which he called “a very scary place run primarily by the ‘big men’ amongst the prisoners (there are very few guards). Children are also held there and the men have access to their living area. The really bad thing is that the many Iraqis amongst them are considered as prima facie refugees by UNHCR, and that Lebanon is a UNHCR Executive Committee member” (Flynn 2009).


Baabda prison for women and the Dahr el Bachek for minor females both fall under Roumieh’s management structure (CLDH 2010, p.17). The ISF has custody over all criminal detainees. In cases were foreign nationals have completed their sentences and remain in prison awaiting deportation, the ISF provides “humanitarian care” for the detainees until they can be transferred to the facility operated by the General Security (FRA 2008, p.41-42).


In addition, there are 19 regional prisons, all of which have been used to hold immigration detainees. These include 16 regional prisons for men—Tripoli, Nabatiyeh, Tyr, Jeb Jennine, Rachaia, Baalbeck, Ras Baalbeck, Zahleh, Tebnine, Jbeil, Batroun, Halba, Amioun, Zgharta, Jezzine, and Aley (CLDH 2010, pp.15-17), and a center for juveniles’ protection, minor males, Fanar (CLDH 2010, p.17)—and three for women: Barbar el Khazen, Tripoli, Zahleh (CLDH 2010, p.17).


Conditions at prisons have received similar criticisms as the General Security Retention Centre (HO 2006, p.19; HRW 2007, p.28-30; CLDH 2010, p.20-25; CL website). The Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) provides a detailed account of prison conditions in a 2010 report titled Prisons in Lebanon: Humanitarian and Legal Concerns. uHuBased on interviews with inmates and visiting prisons, CLDH reports a high frequency of overcrowding, lack of bed space, heating and cooling issues, poor ventilation, insufficient nourishment, lack of access to hot water, inadequate medical services and treatment, antiquated sanitary facilities, among other problems (CLDH 2010, p.21-25, 33-35). The prisons highlighted as being the worst in terms of conditions and infrastructure were Ras Baalbeck, Halba, Jezzine, Aley, and Jbeil (CLDH 2010, p.20).


There have reportedly been severe overcrowding problems in the prison system. Although the official capacity of the system is 3,653, one rights group reports that 5,324, were confined in prisons at one time (CLDH 2010, p.20). Romieh prison, which has a capacity of 1,050 (Hadeshian 2010), has reportedly held as many as 3,840 prisoners (HRNM 2010). Nearly 65 percent of these prisoners in Romieh were foreign nationals who had finished their sentences and were pending transfer to the General Security (CLDH 2010, p.21).


International assistance. Various international organisations, the European Union (EU), as well as several European countries have provided assistance to Lebanon to improve the management of irregular migration and the processing of asylum seekers. Both the EU and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime have worked in cooperation with the Lebanese government to bring the management of the country’s prison system in line with international standards. Both organisations are helping the government roll out a five year program (2008-2012) to transfer all prisons from the authority of the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities to the Ministry of Justice (European Commission 2009). The EU has also provided assistance to associations in Lebanon that provide social and legal services, including to the Association Justice et Miséricorde (European Commission 2008).


An agreement was signed between Italy and Lebanon on 12 March 2010 that commits Italy to providing 400,000 Euro to improve conditions in Lebanese prisons, including provision of electricity, water, sanitation, food, and training of detainees to prepare food (Hicham 2010). The press has also reported on the renovation and expansion of Nabatiya prison, an initiative being undertaken by the Italian Organization INTERSOS, with funding provided by the Italian Embassy in Lebanon (Hicham 2010).


According to another report, the French government has provided assistance to the Lebanese Ministry of Interior to train the internal security forces responsible for the management of prisons (Khayat 2010).


Additionally, according to a nongovernmental source in Lebanon, officials informed her that the government offered a parcel of land near the GS Retention Centre to build a new detention centre that will be center by EU, but that the money had not yet been provided nor had construction begun as of early 20210 (Hadeshian 2010).


UN subcommittee visit. In May-June 2010, the UN Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture (SPT), a mechanism established by the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT), visited Lebanon. The SPT is mandated to visit all states parties to the OPCAT and make recommendations to the authorities to establish effective safeguards against the risk of torture and ill-treatment. SPT’s recommendations and observations are confidential unless states parties request they be made public. ^


According to a UN press release, “During the visit the SPT delegation held meetings with relevant official authorities, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Interior, the Minister of Justice, the Commander General of the Armed Forces, the Director General of the Internal Security Forces, the Director General of the General Security, the General Prosecutor as well as the Chair and other members of the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee. The SPT delegation also met with representatives of non-governmental organizations and other members of civil society. … During the visit, the SPT met with various interlocutors in relation with the creation of an NPM in Lebanon. The SPT also reviewed the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty in Lebanon, and the safeguards for their protection against torture and ill-treatment. It conducted private interviews with detainees in various police establishments and inmates in civil and military prisons. The SPT also visited and conducted interviews in other places where persons are or may be deprived of their liberty” (OHCHR 2010).


Facts & Figures


According to various reports, Lebanon has used 22 penal institutions for the detention of irregular migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, who are held alongside regular criminals (CLDH 2010, p.15-17).


In 2007, Lebanon forcibly returned more than 300 refugees and asylum seekers detained for unauthorized entry or stay, including more than 200 Iraqis (U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants 2008). The International Organization for Migration (IOM), in cooperation with the Iraqi Embassy, has assisted the “voluntary return” of Iraqis (HRW 2007, p.44-46; USC 2008). In January 2007, UNHCR recognized Iraqi nationals as refugees on a prima facie basis (HRW 2007,p.35). However, in 2008 an independent observer documented the deportation of 16 Iraqis holding UNHCR refugee status, two of whom were asylum seekers whose refugee claims had not been decided upon yet (FRA 2008, p.56).


Lebanon has the highest number of detained refugees and asylum seekers among countries in the region (UNHCR 2007). In November 2007, there were 1,378 foreigners detained beyond their sentences, about 820 in Roumieh prison and 441 by the General Directorate of General Security (‘Aliq 2007). Prison sentences for violating immigration laws are between one to three months. However, non-citizens have been held in administrative custody for several years (CLDH 2010, p.63).


As of June 2009, Lebanon hosted between 400,000-500,000 refugees and asylum seekers, including 422,188 Palestinians registered by UNRWA. These people are subject to arrest and detention if they committed a criminal act (USDS 2001).


In January 2010 there were about 48,220 Iraqis in total (UNHCR 2010) while about 10,442 Iraqis registered with UNHCR in November 2009 (UNHCR 2010,p.59). According to some estimates, as many as 50,000 additional undocumented Iraqi refugees could be living in the country (USC 2008; UNHCR 2007). In 2008, there were about 4,500 Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers in Lebanon, of whom only some 340 were registered with UNHCR (USC 2008). At the end of 2008 there were 524 pending asylum applications (UNHCR 2009).