Stateless Persons in Tripoli:
Hostages of Waiting and Despair

On Mohammad who is banned from love, work and travel, and his excruciating journey to retrieve his nationality. On Abdallah whose many failures made him resort to the sea. On Laila who is denied the basic right of access to health care. And, on Qamar, the girl whose vulnerable position of statelessness exposed her to rape…

Douaa Sebahy

Laila who is denied the right to medical care

Laila is young woman from Tripoli who could not enter to a hospital for a procedure for lack of identification. She had to borrow her cousin’s ID and impersonate her to have access to hospitalization, which put her life in grave danger.

تشغيل الفيديو

Mohammad whose life is stranded at the court’s gates

Mohammad is a young man in his late 20s who doesn’t have any nationality. His statelessness has rendered him a hostage of endless waiting, taking a toll on his professional career and love life.

-1-

At long last, my mother came back home holding a mysterious envelope. She looked happy, but she wouldn’t tell me or my siblings what was in it. She merely stated that it contains a surprise that will please me, even though it didn’t have to do with me directly. At first, I thought that it must have been an ultrasound image of another child that she was carrying, whom I would have to raise, as usual. Then it occurred to me that she might have brought a school certificate for one of my siblings. But I had no idea that she was just returning from the court session that would determine the course of my life, after thirty hearings and eighteen years I have spent in waiting, feeling alternately desperate and hopeful.
My father is of Syrian origin, he was serving in the military in Lebanon when he met my mother. The two decided to marry and settle in Lebanon. At the time, my parents did not certify their marriage in either country, assuming that this would facilitate my father’s attainment of the Lebanese nationality, as per the advice of an attorney he knew. They waited for years in hope of acquiring this nationality, during which they gave birth to six stateless children, among whom I was the eldest.
My life has always taken an unusual course. I was an unplanned child, and my mother gave birth to me while visiting my father’s family in Syria. After we were discharged from the hospital, my parents took me with them to Lebanon as if they were transporting smuggled goods. I did not have any kind of identification document, as my father could not register my birth, knowing that his marriage was not even legally registered. Therefore, I crossed the border off the radar. Later on, I had to spend my childhood on the margins of society, without arousing anyone’s attention. No hustle or bustle…
My childhood was miserable and gloomy. My only hope was obtaining the identity card that I was deprived of. In the mid-1990s, the door for naturalization was finally opened, so my father rushed to submit his file and hired an attorney. He seemed very optimistic at the time, as all we ever wished for was an ordinary life.

My family strived to obtain identity cards for me and my siblings and persevered for years in responding to the repeated calls of the court that studied our case. They used to prepare thoroughly for every new hearing as if they were going to war. On the morning of the first hearing, they got ready early in the morning and told us that the matter would not take much time, as “it’s all downhill from here”.
That same day, we waited impatiently for them to come back home with our identity cards in their hands. However, that had not been the case. They didn’t tell us much about the hearing, but I later learned that they first had to certify their marriage, then my father had to obtain the Lebanese nationality, and only then would our files be eligible for examination. One hearing after another, my parents always came back with brief, ambiguous answers: “the hearing was postponed” or “God willing, everything will be okay”… However, I could tell that the matter was more complicated. I could hear my mother whispering things from time to time about the judges’ answers and the attorney’s disengagement, leaving them talk to the judge on their own, without providing any help.
Several hearings and many years later, my father was able to finally certify his marriage and obtain the Lebanese nationality. We were on cloud nine at the time, believing that the problem had been solved. Both of my parents are now Lebanese; accordingly, I must also be Lebanese!
I was already eighteen when the hearings concerning the cases of my siblings and I had commenced. Therefore, I accompanied my family to court from time to time. Every time I walked through the “scanner” at the court door, I felt happy. I loved the sound the device made and the feeling that accompanied it. I was indeed considered a legal adult at the time, but I kept a sense of the childhood I was deprived of due to the years spent between work and home, away from children’s games and toys. The court guards were friendly, always jokingly asking me if I had something in my pockets. This interaction alleviated some of the awe of going to the courthouse, whose huge, empty corridors look like dead quarters framed by dozens of closed doors. On the other hand, nothing entertaining or interesting ever happened inside the halls.
During one of the hearings, the judge wanted to hear my testimony, but the attorney and my parents circumvented the judge to keep me out of the courtroom. They were worried that I would give a testimony that would potentially harm their efforts to obtain the identity cards. I remained at the courtroom door, waiting with no chair in sight to sit on. It was a hot summer day, I was immensely bored and tired, and I eventually fell asleep on the cold tiles after waiting for too long, before waking up to the voices of people leaving the hearing. Usually, several cases related to stateless persons are considered collectively in one hearing, and people often leave the courtrooms complaining. Sometimes they appeared sad, and sometimes they seemed heartbroken.
Seeing them used to demoralize me and send me into spirals of despair.
Nevertheless, I felt excited every time a new hearing appointment was set, always hoping it would be the hearing that will change the course of my life. But it seemed the judge was not convinced that I was my parents’ child, perhaps because of their detectable confusion in front of her due to their lack of experience, in addition to the attorney’s failure to help. The judge was asking my father for documents that were impossible to obtain, such as a family record document, as he hadn’t visited Syria since the end of his military service. My father later briefly relayed to us that, in the last hearing, my mother mentioned my five siblings’ names and did not mention mine. My father reminded her of me, but she replied that my case was separate from that of my siblings since I was already eighteen. Due to this argument, the judge was under the impression that I must have been another woman’s son, and that there was some kind of deception involved so that I can get an identity card that I did not, in fact, deserve.
Consequently, she postponed granting two of my siblings and me our identity cards and granted it to my other three siblings. I did not understand the logic behind such adjudication, nor did I find any convincing explanation for it. All I knew later was that the judge wanted to open a separate investigation regarding my case after I undergo a DNA test, and here I am today, still waiting.
The day of that last hearing that shattered my dreams was the day my mother came home happy because she was able to obtain three identity cards for three of her children. I locked myself in my room and cried my heart out. Never in my life had I felt a sadness so deep as the one I felt on that day. My mother didn’t console me nor notice my tragedy, so I cried myself to sleep. I understood that I would never obtain an identity card… This day will forever haunt me and mess with my career and love life. As a stateless person, even love was escaping me.

Abdallah who has nothing but the sea


Being “Stateless” is not just a matter of a missing document as many people think. It’s not only about not having an identity card to which you can present to show who you are. It’s a lot more than that. I have suffered a great deal in my life and in my career because of it.
Whether I want to get married, seek treatment, hospitalization, or apply for a job, an identity card is always required. I wanted to do anything in my power to find a way out of this situation, knowing that it was affecting my life in every sense.
I used to have a lot of fights with my parents about it, and it even affected my relationship with my friends who used to sometimes jokingly ask me about my ID and where I came from, which hurt me a lot. I ended up having a lot of fights with my father about it.
I couldn’t handle it anymore, so my sister and I decided to find a solution. We went to the Governorate office (the local Serail) and inquired about what we could do in order to find a job or something. They led us to a mayor who handled such cases of stateless people and told us that he could issue for us whatever formality or document we needed.
He said he would help us issue a passport. Then, he gave us an application form to fill. We went back to the governorate office where they gave us many complicated application forms, and asked us to provide two witnesses over 40 years of age. They were very hard to find, because whenever we asked someone to be our witness, they would refuse because they were old and couldn’t bear to go at 6 am to give a testimony.
At the end, my grandfather and my uncle agreed to be our witnesses. Shortly after giving their testimonies, my uncle was arrested, so his testimony – and with it, my application – was rejected. Therefore, I had to search for new witnesses, and I decided to choose witnesses who worked in the public sector, so that nothing would hinder the approval of my application.
I applied for my passport in 2016-2017 but I had to wait until 2019, until I met someone who helped facilitate my application. I told him about my particular case, and fortunately, he had his personal connections. It took him five minutes to finish the work I had suffered for three years to try to accomplish.
I submitted everything required, and the only thing left was to wait for the decision to be issued from Beirut. Previously, my plan was to travel to Turkey where I could stay at a friend’s house, knowing that I only had a small amount of money (around 2 or 3 million Lebanese pounds – 2000$ at the time), which could cover my expenses in Turkey for almost 2 months. However, when it took me more than three years to obtain the passport, my plan was ruined. My friend was no longer in Turkey to help me stay at his place until I found a job and a new source of income. Accordingly, I would have to pay for a room, and at the same time, the revolution in Lebanon had already begun and the US dollar exchange rate was quickly rising. The three million Lebanese pounds were no longer enough for an airplane ticket and traveling was not an option anymore.
I started working as a porter in a shop for cleaning products. Later, I met a language teacher, who used to travel a lot. He offered me help, but I told him I was not able to pay him anything since my salary was only 500,000 pounds, which were barely enough to feed myself. He told me he would help me learn a new language and travel. I didn’t think much of it, but, nevertheless, I started learning the language with him and did my best to acquire some knowledge. Sometime later, he asked me to choose a name that I liked and I gave him the name of an actor in a TV series. Soon, I found out that this was the name to be used on the fake passport that I could use to travel abroad. He explained to me that we were going to travel by sea and work for 3 to 6 months – maybe even a year – on the ship instead of paying money for the trip. This meant that these people could give me orders for a period of time, even if they weren’t a mafia (which was still vague for me).
I agreed, but I wanted someone familiar to accompany me. I told my cousin about it and he also agreed to go with me. We started learning language and chose names for our fake passports. And by the way, we paid only two hundred thousand Lebanese pounds for the fake passport, which is ironically weird because some people pay 1000 or 2000 dollars for fake passports. It wasn’t very convincing, and we started doubting their intentions, I mean why would they help us travel to Italy for 200,000 LBP?! No one is capable of doing that, not even the President of the Republic.
I started having nightmares about it as the date of my departure approached. I was scared and worried about my mother who grew concerned about my behavior and noticed that I’m constantly accompanying my cousin. It was as if she had a feeling that I was doing something wrong. So, I told my mother about my plan, and she didn’t take it very well. She was worried that the ship owners might be some kind of a gang or a Mafia, but I had one answer: “Is this even a life, in this country?” I believed I was surviving and breathing but not living, especially that I lived in Bab al-Tabbaneh, with poverty, which had a huge impact on my life.
Finally, my parents urged me not to travel, so I stayed.

I had an Australian cousin. I talked to her and got to know her better until she came to Lebanon and we got engaged. I wasn’t really happy with this engagement, but at the same time, I didn’t want to marry someone from my own country and have stateless children. I knew if I married a foreigner, my children would acquire their mother’s nationality and wouldn’t have to suffer the same fate as mine because I consider it a crime to knowingly do this to one’s children. I still blame my own father for it.
We got engaged, but after a while, things went sour and we had family disputes which led to our breakup a year after the engagement.

Today, here I am, still waiting for a single thread of hope to hold on to.

 

-2-

Since I was a teenager, love in my life has always been linked to rejection and heartbreak. Whenever I got close to a girl or showed her romantic interest, she would immediately put me in the friend zone as soon as she knew that I was stateless. Therefore, I began to avoid approaching girls for fear of rejection, and I waited for them to make the first move. At eighteen, I fell in love with a girl who used to pass by the gold market, where I worked, on her daily commute to school. I was fascinated by her beauty, so I stood every day in front of the shop at the usual time of her passing, not daring to approach her. After a while, she wrote me a letter asking me why I always stared at her. I took the chance to reply that I like her, and this is how our story began.

We used to meet on holidays. I would give her a little wink, and she’d follow me. We hung out in the nearby alleys and chatted, but I never mentioned my “problem”. Everyone thought I was her fiancé, and that made me happy. Even at the security checkpoints, the officers ignored asking me for my identity card when she was with me, unlike the times I was alone or with my male friends, when I had to wait for a long time to verify my identity. Sometimes, they would even take me to the police station thinking that I was a fugitive.
Avoiding to mention my stateless status made our relationship smooth for some time, until the day her neighbor saw us together outside in her neighborhood, and informed her mother. Her mom was furious; she rebuked her daughter, then came to complain to my father, as if our love was a scandal. My father asked her what she wanted, and she responded: “They must marry!”. He disagreed at first because he was sick, and I was responsible for providing for our household. He thought that if I got into a serious relationship, I would end up neglecting my duties towards my own family, so he promised her that he would put an end to this relationship. When he told me his decision, his one argument was: “How are you going to marry her knowing your situation?”
I was mocked by my own family and everyone stood against me. My sister even sarcastically asked me if I would be moving into a cardboard box on the beach. They believed that I would never be able to have an ordinary family life just because I’m stateless. Nevertheless, I didn’t give up; I asked them for time and promised them that I would improve my financial condition, then I asked my boss at work to act as a mediator between me and my father. Eventually, I was able to convince him. My girlfriend’s family hadn’t had the chance to get to know me, yet all that mattered to them was to get us engaged in order to get rid of the so-called unholy love and make this relationship official in front of people. Finally, the promised day came. We were to make a religious ceremony, by reciting Al-Fatiha and giving each other engagement rings. I was the happiest person on earth. The engagement took place at my fiancée’s home, and everything was going smoothly. At the end of the evening, and just before leaving, I told her family that I am stateless, and the news came as a complete shock. At first, my fiancée thought that I was joking, but even after realizing that I was serious, she did not mind sharing her life with me. As for her ill-tempered mother, she did not take the news well at all and kept asking me how I would marry her daughter, how I would certify my marriage, what would the fate of our children be, and many other impossible questions…
At that time, I was still struggling to obtain the Lebanese identity, and the adjudication regarding my case had not yet been issued. I tried to convince my mother-in-law that it would work out fine soon, but she didn’t show any signs of conviction. Moreover, she and her relatives started giving my mother suspicious looks, full of contempt. I even heard her whispering slurs to her sister about my mother. I was absolutely outraged, and I could not bear anyone belittling us and slandering my mother, so, just like that, I ended everything. I asked my fiancée to take off her engagement ring, and I stormed out of their house in a rage fit, throwing everything in my way on the ground and kicking chairs everywhere. I didn’t come home for two days. The breakup was a painful shock to both of us, who couldn’t understand how love could be robbed of us this way…
After our breakup, the world looked dull and gloomy, and I started avoiding the roads that I knew she might take. I drank alcohol for the first time and went to bars with my friends, where I hooked up with several girls. Eventually, I made a habit of going out every night and getting drunk in order to get over my past. It took me a long time to realize that this lifestyle was dragging me into darker places. I decided to leave Tripoli altogether, and moved to live and work in Beirut.
After six tumultuous years in Beirut, news of me reached my father, so he asked me to return to Tripoli and decided to get me married in order to “sober up,” as he put it. I was a young man in his mid-twenties while my father was withering away in old age and severe illness, so I went back to take care of him. After a while, he told me he got me engaged to a girl I didn’t know. He had read Al-Fatiha with her family with the intention of getting me married. I was not convinced; after all, who would accept to marry someone who lacked an identity card? So I asked him mockingly if he had read Al-Fatiha as a prayer on my grave, to which he answered in all seriousness: “I will get you married”.
And so, it happened.
I didn’t like the idea at first and treated my future wife with indifference. I didn’t like the girl, and thought she wasn’t my type, but I agreed to the engagement in order to please my parents. After that, my parents took over the engagement and marriage preparations, and it was actually turning into a beautiful period in my life, despite the fact that I had no feelings for the bride. Our marriage was not certified in state departments, but it was legal according to the Sharia court.
Two years into our marriage, my wife discovered she had cancer. Just like the times she delivered our children, I was asked every time I took her to the hospital for my identity card, which complicated her admission and made me upset and uncomfortable. I later asked her sister to accompany her to the hospital to make things easier for her. I, alone, bore all the expenses of my wife’s treatment, as I had no health coverage or insurance of any kind. I couldn’t get help from anyone.

Qamar who was raped by a “powerful” man


I can’t forget what happened on November 11, 2017. I’m a stateless person; the child of a Lebanese mother and a non-Lebanese father.
Our parents didn’t register our birth when we were young, although their marriage is legally registered. Each of them blamed the other, so my 5 sisters and I have lived with no identity cards, nationality, nor existence.
When I turned eighteen, I decided to try to register myself and my sisters. I went with my older sister and filed a lawsuit, commenced with the procedures, asked people and attorneys, and resorted to foundations and acquaintances for legal and financial aid.
Eventually, I told my friend who lived abroad about my story. I told him that I was stateless and needed help, so he suggested to introduce me to a good attorney who was also a powerful, rich and important businessman with many political connections. He said he would be able to facilitate my registration formalities without paying a penny.
I agreed to meet him and started to communicate with the attorney via Whatsapp. He gave me an appointment at 4 o’clock in Beirut. I went, optimistically holding a copy of the file that he had asked me to bring. His driver was waiting for me around the corner of the street, then he drove me to the law firm. We sat in a room other than the one in which he usually meets people. He poured us two glasses of seven-up with lemon, but I didn’t drink any of it.
We started chatting and he asked me how far I have gotten with the procedures of the lawsuit, who the judge was, what documents I have submitted and how I ended up stateless in the first place… I provided him with all the information he asked about and handed him a copy of my file.
When I stood up to leave, he suddenly grabbed my hand and shoved me. I asked him to get away from me but he refused and kept pushing. It was very painful, and he was hurting my hand. I realized at that moment that he wanted to rape me, so I tried really hard to push him away from me, but I just couldn’t. He was huge and I’m very skinny. He grabbed me and threw me on the sofa, then forced himself on top of me, took my clothes off and raped me. I tried my best to push him away. I spat on him and hit him, but nothing worked. Eventually, I surrendered and closed my eyes hoping that I wouldn’t remember any of the terrible scenes when I woke up. When he was done with me, he threw 150$ at me, but, of course, I didn’t take his money. On my way out, I screamed and shouted at him. I didn’t go home that day, because I wasn’t able to walk properly out of pain and shock.
I called my friend and told him what his lawyer-friend did to me, but he responded that it was okay and even wondered how I didn’t expect such a thing, saying: “nothing is for free”. I decided to move on, to forget what has happened, convincing myself that no damage would be sustained.
That was until I missed my period. I panicked and immediately performed a pregnancy test and tested positive twice. I visited a doctor who told me that I was indeed pregnant and that she would help me abort the baby. I started crying because I had neither the money nor the strength to undergo an abortion. Then I started thinking, if I kept the baby and got rid of it later, I might not be able to get pregnant again, or I might develop other symptoms. My family might find out or maybe someone would see me…
I decided to ask a friend for help. He took me to a doctor he knew, and the latter gave me a pregnancy test. Fortunately, I tested negative in both the pregnancy test and the blood test. I was absolutely relieved. The doctor prescribed me some pills to regulate my period, which I had missed due to the trauma I went through. Indeed, once I knew I wasn’t pregnant, I got my period again the very next day. However, nothing else has changed. I’ve lost everything and can never redeem what I lost.

-3-

After our second child, my mother-in-law said we should stop having kids, as the children will be stateless like their father. I could not object because I myself got depressed every time I tried to imagine their future. Therefore, I decided to do the impossible in order to get them identity cards that could spare them a life like mine.
In my early childhood, I went to several schools. Registering me in school was a complicated process that required weeks of preparation, several visits to the mayor, and a file full of documents. Because of that, I stopped attending public schools and moved to a religious school that did not ask for many identification documents. During my short academic life, I always felt strange and different because the teachers treated me as if I was not human like them. I could not pursue my education even though I wanted to, because once I reached the second grade, it got increasingly difficult for me to enroll in school through the mayor’s interference alone and without official papers.
My parents took me out of school into the realm of work when I was only nine years old; I had to learn a “profession”. In the beginning, I worked for a car mechanic, and I liked that job because I loved cars just like any nine-year-old boy. My work was limited to delivering things to my boss and his clients, and sometimes accompanying his children to and from school. I cannot describe the pain I felt every time I had to go to school with them, but my young dreams at that time alleviated some of my grief.

I dreamed that I would own a car when I grew up, but I soon realized that I would not be able to register the car in my name. I could drive it, but then it would be illegal, knowing that I would not be able to obtain a driving license, and the car could never be my own. I hated driving, because I wanted to do it only legally, but that was not possible. I gave up on auto mechanics, and moved to goldsmithing. I clung to my dream of getting rich one day, when all my crises would be resolved. Isn’t the language of money the most powerful of all?
But life in the field of gold and jewelry was not all rosy. The curse of being “stateless” continued to haunt me. I tried to acquire a degree in jewelry making, but I could not get it without an identity card, a passport, a nationality, or anything that proves that I am an existing human being. I wanted to found an institute to teach the skill of jewelry-making, but there was the same obstacle, standing in my way again.
Nevertheless, I continued working in the jewelry business and saved enough money to finally open my own goldsmithing workshop. I even became quite popular in the market. I had a partner in business for about four years, until the day he decided to rip me off, knowing full well that I wouldn’t be able to do anything. He kicked me out after stealing from me 150 grams of gold and 7,000 dollars. He simply said: “There is no business between us. Show me any kind of document or proof.” And he was right. I had only two options: either to kill him or to withdraw from the scene in silence. I was helpless.
Many people blamed me at the time for getting into business with someone without a legal partnership agreement. I cried a lot in regret, but I learned my most crucial life lesson: never dare to venture into starting any business, as it is predestined to failure. Nevertheless, I kept my passion for the jewelry business, even though I was in constant anguish over my situation as a stateless person, which made it difficult for me not only to find a new job, but also to develop my working skills.
I became ashamed of myself, just being in this world. I am denied the right to work, travel, and even move freely within my country. Whenever a checkpoint stops me and asks for my identity card, I show the one and only blue paper that the mayor gave me to identify myself. The soldier looks at me with contempt, so I ask him: “why do you look so disgusted?” My life has become a vicious circle; I oscillate between work to home. If I am ever arrested at a time of instability, my country could easily consider me a terrorist.

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Writer: Douaa Sebahy
Translated From Arabic: Rawan Mokdad
Illustration: Kamal Hakim
Photographer: Boussayna Tellawi
Video: Douaa Sebbahy, Safiya Taha, Mohamad Abedine, Abdel Kader Al Ayi & Boussayna Tellawi
Multimedia Supervision: Fourate Chahal El Rekaby
Design: Ibrahim Charara
Editing: Rida Hariri, Sabah Jalloul
Development: Jaafar Charara, Rawan Houri
Editor: Ibrahim Charara

-4-

Despite everything I have endured, my children remain the thread of hope that I hold on to, driven by my desire to provide them with a better life than mine. For this reason, I am still actively seeking to obtain the nationality. I contacted many people close to different politicians in the city, hoping that they would help me. I went from one place to another, to no avail, and waited in countless offices of politicians, only to be told at the end: “Sorry, the law of naturalization is suspended”, as if I didn’t already know that. I was fed up with the hypocrisy of these people. I know that the law is suspended, and I know that nobody cares, but I want the nationality for one reason only; not for myself, but so that my children would not have the same fate as mine, and so that they would be spared all the torment I have lived through. I’ve done my share of suffering, everything I’ve dreamed of has been destroyed, and it doesn’t matter anymore. I just don’t want my kids to leave school two years from now.

I hired an attorney once and paid him twenty thousand dollars to help me obtain the nationality, but I got nowhere with him. Two years ago, I hired another attorney. I haven’t paid him any fees yet, except for one million Lebanese pounds for his legal representation. On one occasion, I asked him why some of my stateless acquaintances have been granted their identity cards, while I, alone, was still denied the document. He shook his head apologetically without answering me. I had the feeling that this attorney was an empathetic and hard-working man, and I promised him that I would give him whatever he wanted if he brings me my identity card. He assured me that he would do that under any circumstances, although the judge hasn’t yet agreed to sign my file and close my case. My attorney promised me that we would soon go to Beirut to resolve the matter, once and for all.

Laila who is denied the right to medical care

تشغيل الفيديو

Abdallah who has nothing but the sea


Being “Stateless” is not just a matter of a missing document as many people think. It’s not only about not having an identity card to which you can present to show who you are. It’s a lot more than that. I have suffered a great deal in my life and in my career because of it.
Whether I want to get married, seek treatment, hospitalization, or apply for a job, an identity card is always required. I wanted to do anything in my power to find a way out of this situation, knowing that it was affecting my life in every sense.
I used to have a lot of fights with my parents about it, and it even affected my relationship with my friends who used to sometimes jokingly ask me about my ID and where I came from, which hurt me a lot. I ended up having a lot of fights with my father about it.
I couldn’t handle it anymore, so my sister and I decided to find a solution. We went to the Governorate office (the local Serail) and inquired about what we could do in order to find a job or something. They led us to a mayor who handled such cases of stateless people and told us that he could issue for us whatever formality or document we needed.
He said he would help us issue a passport. Then, he gave us an application form to fill. We went back to the governorate office where they gave us many complicated application forms, and asked us to provide two witnesses over 40 years of age. They were very hard to find, because whenever we asked someone to be our witness, they would refuse because they were old and couldn’t bear to go at 6 am to give a testimony.
At the end, my grandfather and my uncle agreed to be our witnesses. Shortly after giving their testimonies, my uncle was arrested, so his testimony – and with it, my application – was rejected. Therefore, I had to search for new witnesses, and I decided to choose witnesses who worked in the public sector, so that nothing would hinder the approval of my application.
I applied for my passport in 2016-2017 but I had to wait until 2019, until I met someone who helped facilitate my application. I told him about my particular case, and fortunately, he had his personal connections. It took him five minutes to finish the work I had suffered for three years to try to accomplish.
I submitted everything required, and the only thing left was to wait for the decision to be issued from Beirut. Previously, my plan was to travel to Turkey where I could stay at a friend’s house, knowing that I only had a small amount of money (around 2 or 3 million Lebanese pounds – 2000$ at the time), which could cover my expenses in Turkey for almost 2 months. However, when it took me more than three years to obtain the passport, my plan was ruined. My friend was no longer in Turkey to help me stay at his place until I found a job and a new source of income. Accordingly, I would have to pay for a room, and at the same time, the revolution in Lebanon had already begun and the US dollar exchange rate was quickly rising. The three million Lebanese pounds were no longer enough for an airplane ticket and traveling was not an option anymore.
I started working as a porter in a shop for cleaning products. Later, I met a language teacher, who used to travel a lot. He offered me help, but I told him I was not able to pay him anything since my salary was only 500,000 pounds, which were barely enough to feed myself. He told me he would help me learn a new language and travel. I didn’t think much of it, but, nevertheless, I started learning the language with him and did my best to acquire some knowledge. Sometime later, he asked me to choose a name that I liked and I gave him the name of an actor in a TV series. Soon, I found out that this was the name to be used on the fake passport that I could use to travel abroad. He explained to me that we were going to travel by sea and work for 3 to 6 months – maybe even a year – on the ship instead of paying money for the trip. This meant that these people could give me orders for a period of time, even if they weren’t a mafia (which was still vague for me).
I agreed, but I wanted someone familiar to accompany me. I told my cousin about it and he also agreed to go with me. We started learning language and chose names for our fake passports. And by the way, we paid only two hundred thousand Lebanese pounds for the fake passport, which is ironically weird because some people pay 1000 or 2000 dollars for fake passports. It wasn’t very convincing, and we started doubting their intentions, I mean why would they help us travel to Italy for 200,000 LBP?! No one is capable of doing that, not even the President of the Republic.
I started having nightmares about it as the date of my departure approached. I was scared and worried about my mother who grew concerned about my behavior and noticed that I’m constantly accompanying my cousin. It was as if she had a feeling that I was doing something wrong. So, I told my mother about my plan, and she didn’t take it very well. She was worried that the ship owners might be some kind of a gang or a Mafia, but I had one answer: “Is this even a life, in this country?” I believed I was surviving and breathing but not living, especially that I lived in Bab al-Tabbaneh, with poverty, which had a huge impact on my life.
Finally, my parents urged me not to travel, so I stayed.

I had an Australian cousin. I talked to her and got to know her better until she came to Lebanon and we got engaged. I wasn’t really happy with this engagement, but at the same time, I didn’t want to marry someone from my own country and have stateless children. I knew if I married a foreigner, my children would acquire their mother’s nationality and wouldn’t have to suffer the same fate as mine because I consider it a crime to knowingly do this to one’s children. I still blame my own father for it.
We got engaged, but after a while, things went sour and we had family disputes which led to our breakup a year after the engagement.

Today, here I am, still waiting for a single thread of hope to hold on to.

 

Qamar who was raped by a “powerful” man


I can’t forget what happened on November 11, 2017. I’m a stateless person; the child of a Lebanese mother and a non-Lebanese father.
Our parents didn’t register our birth when we were young, although their marriage is legally registered. Each of them blamed the other, so my 5 sisters and I have lived with no identity cards, nationality, nor existence.
When I turned eighteen, I decided to try to register myself and my sisters. I went with my older sister and filed a lawsuit, commenced with the procedures, asked people and attorneys, and resorted to foundations and acquaintances for legal and financial aid.
Eventually, I told my friend who lived abroad about my story. I told him that I was stateless and needed help, so he suggested to introduce me to a good attorney who was also a powerful, rich and important businessman with many political connections. He said he would be able to facilitate my registration formalities without paying a penny.
I agreed to meet him and started to communicate with the attorney via Whatsapp. He gave me an appointment at 4 o’clock in Beirut. I went, optimistically holding a copy of the file that he had asked me to bring. His driver was waiting for me around the corner of the street, then he drove me to the law firm. We sat in a room other than the one in which he usually meets people. He poured us two glasses of seven-up with lemon, but I didn’t drink any of it.
We started chatting and he asked me how far I have gotten with the procedures of the lawsuit, who the judge was, what documents I have submitted and how I ended up stateless in the first place… I provided him with all the information he asked about and handed him a copy of my file.
When I stood up to leave, he suddenly grabbed my hand and shoved me. I asked him to get away from me but he refused and kept pushing. It was very painful, and he was hurting my hand. I realized at that moment that he wanted to rape me, so I tried really hard to push him away from me, but I just couldn’t. He was huge and I’m very skinny. He grabbed me and threw me on the sofa, then forced himself on top of me, took my clothes off and raped me. I tried my best to push him away. I spat on him and hit him, but nothing worked. Eventually, I surrendered and closed my eyes hoping that I wouldn’t remember any of the terrible scenes when I woke up. When he was done with me, he threw 150$ at me, but, of course, I didn’t take his money. On my way out, I screamed and shouted at him. I didn’t go home that day, because I wasn’t able to walk properly out of pain and shock.
I called my friend and told him what his lawyer-friend did to me, but he responded that it was okay and even wondered how I didn’t expect such a thing, saying: “nothing is for free”. I decided to move on, to forget what has happened, convincing myself that no damage would be sustained.
That was until I missed my period. I panicked and immediately performed a pregnancy test and tested positive twice. I visited a doctor who told me that I was indeed pregnant and that she would help me abort the baby. I started crying because I had neither the money nor the strength to undergo an abortion. Then I started thinking, if I kept the baby and got rid of it later, I might not be able to get pregnant again, or I might develop other symptoms. My family might find out or maybe someone would see me…
I decided to ask a friend for help. He took me to a doctor he knew, and the latter gave me a pregnancy test. Fortunately, I tested negative in both the pregnancy test and the blood test. I was absolutely relieved. The doctor prescribed me some pills to regulate my period, which I had missed due to the trauma I went through. Indeed, once I knew I wasn’t pregnant, I got my period again the very next day. However, nothing else has changed. I’ve lost everything and can never redeem what I lost.

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Writer: Douaa Sebahy
Translated From Arabic: Rawan Mokdad
Illustration: Kamal Hakim
Photographer: Boussayna Tellawi
Video: Douaa Sebbahy, Safiya Taha, Mohamad Abedine, Abdel Kader Al Ayi & Boussayna Tellawi
Multimedia Supervision: Fourate Chahal El Rekaby
Design: Ibrahim Charara
Editing: Rida Hariri, Sabah Jalloul
Development: Jaafar Charara, Rawan Houri
Editor: Ibrahim Charara

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A media platform that aims at strengthening the use of multimedia storytelling in journalistic production.
The stories published on the platform were produced by young journalists and content creators who were trained by the StoryLeb team.
The project benefitted from the financial assistance of the European Commission within the framework of the project Shabab Live, a joint project of Deutsche Welle Akademie, Arab Resource Center for popular Arts and Al Khatt.

Executive Editor: Ibrahim Charara
Multimedia Supervision: Fourate Chahal El Rekaby
Editing: Rida Hariri, Sabah Jalloul
Development: Jaafar Charara, Rawan Houri
Design: Ibrahim Charara
English Translation: Sabah Jalloul, Rawan Mokdad

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“This platform has been produced with the financial assistance of the European Commission within the framework of the project Shabab Live, a joint project of Deutsche Welle Akademie, Arab Resource Center for popular Arts and Al Khatt. The contents of this document are the sole responsibility of StoryLeb and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the European Commission or the project partners”.

The subjects of the stories published on the StoryLeb platform were chosen by the young journalists and media creators who participated in the first training session of the project.
This project benefitted from the financial assistance of the European Commission within the framework of the project Shabab Live, a joint project of Deutsche Welle Akademie, Arab Resource Center for popular Arts and Al Khatt. The content of this video is the sole responsibility of StoryLeb and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the European Commission or the project partners.