Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 9 December 2019

Palestinians in Lebanon deserve to be treated with dignity

A recent crackdown on Syrian and Palestinian workers in Lebanon has added to the woes of two displaced communities

Protesters hold a banner reading in Arabic: 'Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians workers of Lebanon, unite!' during a protest against the raids and arrests by the Ministry of Labour targeting undocumented workers. EPA
Protesters hold a banner reading in Arabic: 'Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians workers of Lebanon, unite!' during a protest against the raids and arrests by the Ministry of Labour targeting undocumented workers. EPA

A clampdown on undocumented workers in Lebanon was intended to target Syrians at a time when xenophobic sentiment is running high in the country. Yet Palestinian refugees have become victims of laws designed to prevent those without official status from working. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, Lebanon is home to nearly half a million Palestinians. Many of them were forced out of their homeland during the 1948 Nakba and sought refuge in Lebanon. Most live in refugee camps, crippled by water and electricity shortages and rife with armed gangs. The recent clampdown on workers without documentation has shed light on decades of discrimination against a displaced people. Although they have lived in Lebanon for generations, Palestinians do not have citizenship. The national consensus is that they should not be integrated into society as this would undermine the Palestinian cause and threaten Lebanon’s delicate sectarian balance. This has left an entire community marginalised. Palestinians are recognised as residents but when it comes to work, they are treated as foreigners and need a permit to be employed. They cannot own property and are barred from most well-paying jobs. In Lebanon, they cannot practise medicine or become lawyers and engineers. And with no solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict in sight, Palestinians are unlikely to be able to return home anytime soon. This has turned Palestinian refugees into second-class citizens.

Like Syrians, they are suffering under rules that are making it increasingly difficult for them to live and work legally in Lebanon. Many of the 1.5 million Syrians living in Lebanon escaped the war and exist on the fringes of society as they have to find a sponsor to become residents. Since 2015, the government has banned UNRWA from giving them refugee status. As a result, only one in four Syrians has proper documentation and many risk losing their jobs and being deported, even as conflict continues to divide their homeland.

Employers have long taken advantage of discriminatory laws favouring Lebanese citizens to recruit cheap labour, mainly from these two maligned and displaced communities. Palestinians and Syrians are paid salaries below the minimum wage and cannot benefit from social security, health insurance or pensions. Those who campaigned for the crackdown have claimed that foreigners are taking jobs from the Lebanese but in reality, businesses rely on low-income foreign workers to take jobs shunned by the Lebanese. For example, bakeries have threatened to go on strike if Syrians are not allowed to work for them as they are unable to recruit Lebanese employees willing to work for the meagre earnings the job entails. The Lebanese economy relies on the hard work of Syrians and Palestinians. They should not be punished simply for trying to provide for their families in the face of hardship at home and now abroad.

Updated: August 4, 2019 06:33 PM

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