Lebanese police 'chase Syrian child refugee to his death' in Beirut

Lebanese police 'chase Syrian child refugee to his death' in Beirut
A Beirut police patrol chased a Syrian child refugee who fell to his death, his family and activists have claimed, while the police denied any wrong-doing.
3 min read
21 January, 2019
Ahmad's death has sparked anger in Lebanon over police brutality with refugees [Twitter]
A Beirut police patrol chased a Syrian child refugee to his death, his family and activists have said, while the police denied any wrong-doing.

The 14-year-old boy named as Ahmad Zoubi is thought to have fallen to his death into a 6-storey stairwell while trying to evade municipal police. Zoubi, who has been described in local media as a 'shoe shiner' and a 'child beggar', had allegedly stolen from a donations box near a mosque.

Activists are angry after reports emerged it took three days to find his body in the Tallet al-Khayat district of the Lebanese capital, amid accusations police were aware he had been injured but left the scene without seeking medical assistance. 

Video footage obtained by Zoubi's family from the CCTV cameras of a mosque near the scene show him fleeing from a police patrol and disappearing into an alleyway. The police are then seen leaving the premises without him. The footage has been shared on Facebook.

Fathi Zoubi, the victim's uncle, told The New Arab's Arabic edition the family found his body near the alleyway, after contacting hospitals and police stations in the city, and retraced the places he was known to work at. He said the victim's father intends to press charges against the police.
Child beggars and shoe-shiners have become a common sight on the streets of Beirut, many of whom exploited by organised gangs.
The Beirut municipal police has issued a statement denying its officers acted wrongly, offering its own account. The statement said the police officers received reports of a theft in the area, and when they came to investigate, the victim fled the scene. They said he vanished into a closed-off alleyway with officers deciding not to pursue him.

"We are not in a jungle... the police would not leave the deceased's body and not try to contact the Red Cross (ambulance service)," Fadi Baghdadi, a spokesperson for the Beirut municipality, told The New Arab Arabic.

Baghdadi said an internal investigation established the police officers' version of the incident, but human rights' activists are not convinced.

"The municapility must bear responsibility for the child's death, given its history of violence, racism and harassment against children working on the street," an activist working on racism and migrant issues in Lebanon, told The New Arab, asking not to be named.

Activists and relatives say the victim has been detained before for alleged petty crimes. 

"These children need protection... stealing from donation boxes is not a major crime compared to the corruption and violation of public spaces that the municipality turns a blind eye to," the activist said, in reference to the controversial and illegal privatisation of public property in Beirut.

Lebanon is home to over a million Syrian refugees fleeing the war in their country next door, including tens of thousands of children, who live in difficult conditions and are barred from most jobs in the country. Syrians have often complained about systematic racism and mistreatment by the country's authorities. 

Child beggars and shoe-shiners meanwhile have become a common sight on the streets of Beirut, many of whom exploited by organised gangs.

Their plight is the subject of 'Capernaum', an Oscar-nominated film directed by Lebanon's Nadine Labaki, who has tried to shine a light on their often ignored story.

Follow Karim Traboulsi on Twitter @kareemios