Iraqi refugees in Lebanon 'left behind, forgotten'

Thousands of Iraqi refugees in Lebanon face a daily struggle to survive because of a lack of jobs and the rising cost of food and accommodation, a Catholic charity said on Tuesday. 

Caritas, which has been helping Iraqi refugees in Lebanon since 1997, said rising tensions between Iraqi and Syrian refugees was a problem in Lebanon, where many Iraqis accuse the Syrians of being a source of cheap labor. 

The report said many Iraqi refugees were overly optimistic about being quickly resettled, and as a result stopped looking for work or stopped enrolling their children in school. When reality failed to meet expectations, they often felt hopeless or depressed, adding to the burden on a population where trauma is common, the report said. 

"Up until this summer, the continuing Iraqi refugee crisis was no longer newsworthy, especially as the international community and media turned its attention to the Syrian conflict," Najla Chahda, director of the Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center, said in the report. 

"Unfortunately, as this report goes to press, a new wave of Iraqi refugees is entering Lebanon. Having faced the brutality of fundamentalist militants, the first of these persecuted Christian Iraqis has already begun to arrive." 

One in four people living in Lebanon in a refugee, the highest per capita concentration of refugees in the world, many of them living in the poorest areas. 

Lebanon has a long history of hosting people fleeing conflict and persecution - more than 60 years ago, it took in tens of thousands of Palestinians who were made refugees by the 1948 Arab-Israeli war marking the creation of Israel. 

It is now home to some 8,000 Iraqi refugees and asylum seekers, according to the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR. Many Iraqis fled after the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of their country. 

But Lebanon has become known increasingly for hosting more than 1 million Syrian refugees, a number the government has said it cannot cope with. On Saturday, a UNHCR representative in Lebanon said the government there had cut back sharply the number of Syrian refugees it was allowing to enter the country. 

Caritas said that since August it had received requests for help from more than 300 Iraqi families. In the past few months, hundreds of thousands of people have fled an offensive by the militant Sunni group Islamic State, which has seized large swathes of Syria and Iraq and declared a caliphate. 

The group is accused of massacres, beheading civilians and soldiers, sexually enslaving women and girls and recruiting children as fighters. 

(This story has been refiled to fix typo in spelling of UNHCR in ninth paragraph) 

by Katie Nguyen, editing by Tim Pearce

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