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Weekly News Report: December 6-12, 2021

March in Shatila camp in Beirut against the Ministry of Labor's crackdown on Palestinian and Syrian workers on August 9, 2019. Photo from Campji on Facebook

Articles and views shared in the Weekly News Report do not necessarily represent ARM’s views. Information in these articles has not been fact-checked by ARM and may contain some errors. ARM is simply compiling all news relevant to migrant communities to inform our advocacy efforts and to facilitate the work of organizations who cater to migrant communities.

Labor Minister Issues Decision Allowing Non-Lebanese to Work [here]

Labor Minister Moustafa Bayram issued the annual decree on December 8, which the Minister is obliged by law to release every December, specifying the list of jobs exclusively held for Lebanese nationals. The decree added an important exclusion of Palestinians, children and husbands of Lebanese women, and stateless people who can now work in all listed jobs.

While this is an important step to finally integrate non-Lebanese workers in the formal economy and consequently guarantee their rights, the decision does have limitations as follows:

  • The exclusion came in a decision as part of a decree and does not entail any legislative change in the Labor Law. This means that the exclusion and/or decision can be retracted at any time either by the same minister or by future ministers;

  • Practicing jobs that require a license from a syndicate (medicine; law; dentistry, pharmacy etc.) can only happen if the syndicates amend their internal bylaws to allow non-Lebanese to practice.

For context, Palestinians had been banned from working in around 70 jobs in Lebanon which pushed many to work in informal sectors of the economy that often pay little and where employers claim they cannot afford to pay a working permit through the Lebanese employer. Former Labor Minister Camille Abousleiman had cracked down on Palestinian and Syrian workers in summer 2019 using the law as an excuse and inciting racist incidents including physical attacks against them and their (usually small) businesses.

For more on how to better integrate non-Lebanese workers in the labor market in a fair manner, check ARM’s submission to the United Nations Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) through this link.

More details and explanations:

By Al Jazeera

By L’Orient Today

By BBC

Racist Backlash by Rightwing Groups and Media [sources below]

Several rightwing groups and media outlets, including the Kataeb and the head of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), rejected the Labor Minister’s decision on the baseless concerns about possibilities of future naturalization, and misunderstanding of what the decision actually entails. Examples of such concerns include:

  • Possibility of worsening the conditions of Lebanese workers either by not finding jobs anymore or by taking less salaries. However, the latter cannot be blamed on non-Lebanese workers but on Lebanese employers who exploit the situation to pay their employees less; which has been a prominent phenomenon for years and did not begin with the current crisis;

  • The requirement for institutions to register non-Lebanese workers in the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) will push it to bankruptcy, without explaining how such a risk can take place given that employers would be paying.

Additionally, the head of Maronite League and former Member of Parliament Nehmetallah Abi Nasr rejected the decision on the basis of potential future naturalization and dismissed the “human” aspect of the decision. He also expressed concern that this might be applied to Syrians in the future [here].

The misinformation and racist sentiments were spread all over the Lebanese internet mainly by groups promoting and preparing for the upcoming parliamentary elections, which contextualizes the backlash and sensational arguments by using populist discourse for popular support ahead of the elections.

More on this:

By Al-Akhbar

By Lebanon24

Order of Physicians in Tripoli Welcomes Labor Minister’s Decision [here]

The Lebanese Order of Physicians in Tripoli released a statement welcoming the Minister of Labor’s decision, and stressing this as a civil right for Palestinians born and raised in Lebanon.

The statement also addressed the backlash, emphasizing that Lebanese expatriates have the same civil rights abroad in terms of work, and adding that the economic crisis and concerns stem from the failure of Lebanon’s economic policies as opposed to the false belief that the problem is as simple as the inability of Lebanese to find jobs.

Labor Minister Responds to Backlash with Clarification of the Decision [here]

Minister of Labor Bayram held a press conference to address the backlash and misunderstanding of the recent decision to include non-Lebanese workers in the formal economy, and clarified the following:

  • The decision specifies the jobs restricted only to Lebanese workers and states in only one paragraph the exception of Palestinians, children and husbands of Lebanese women, and stateless people;

  • The reason for issuing the decision is the annual obligation by law for the Minister of Labor to publish the list of jobs restricted to Lebanese workers in December;

  • Jobs and professions that are restricted to Lebanese workers by the constitution/Labor Law/previous decrees (such as medicine, law, engineering, accounting) will not be affected by the decision given that this requires a separate legislation;

  • The general rule in the decision: Lebanese citizens can work in all sectors, while the exception is given to non-Lebanese;

  • The motivation behind the decision is to ensure employment of Lebanese people in sectors that mostly only employ non-Lebanese such as cleaning companies, briefly citing the mass evacuation of migrant workers from the country over the past 2 years.

Historical Overview of Domestic Work by Fe-Male [here]

Fe-Male organization released a video explaining the history of feminizing domestic work with more women entering the job market outside the household, as well as the introduction of the Kafala system to regulate domestic work in the Middle East and North African region. The video argues for legal protection for domestic workers through abolishing Kafala and including domestic work in labor laws to enable workers to unionize.

Syrians Deported from Belarus [here]

Ninety-six Syrians were deported to Damascus, Syria after being stuck at the Belarus-Poland border for months, many of whom had gone to the border from Lebanon and were banned from re-entering the country by the Lebanese General Security. Going back to Syria for a lot of people could mean persecution, detention, and obligatory military conscription. 

Palestinian Association for Human Rights Addresses MoL’s Decision [here]

The Palestinian Association for Human Rights (Witness) published a statement clarifying what the decision of the Minister of Labor does entail, and proposed 5 additional steps to further improve the conditions of Palestinian workers:

  • Syndicates of jobs that require a license to practice (medicine, law, pharmacy etc.) should amend their internal bylaws to allow Palestinians and other non-Lebanese people to join those sectors;

  • Issuing a decree confirming the decision and obliging future ministers to abide by it given that, as it currently stands, the decision is only applicable during the mandate of the current minister;

  • Amending Labor Law 129 to ensure equality between Palestinian workers and their Lebanese counterparts with regards to rights and duties, to enable Palestinians to (1) Work in all jobs excluding the public sector, (2) To join syndicates and trade unions, (3) Removing the requirement for a work permit, (4) Removing the requirement for “Parity of treatment” given the impossibility of equal treatment of Lebanese workers in Palestine due to the occupation, and (5) be guaranteed equal pay;

  • Amending Law 128 of National Social Security Fund (NSSF) to start taking the same amount from Palestinian and Lebanese workers;

  • Amending the law regulating free professions (medicine etc.) to cancel the requirement of Lebanese citizenship in order to join the syndicate and practice the profession.

Majdal Anjar Municipality Issues Racist Curfew Decision for Syrian Residents [here]

The municipality of Majdal Anjar in Bekaa imposed a new curfew on December 7 on Syrian residents from 10pm to 7am, threatening to legally prosecute anyone who does not abide without approval/permission from the municipality. 

The statement cited the worrying safety conditions and rising thefts as the motivation for the curfew.

ACHR Releases Policy Paper on Situation of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon [here]

The Access Center for Human Rights (ACHR) published a new policy paper addressing the situation of Syrian refugees in Lebanon and offering legal recommendations to improve their conditions. The paper analyzes the shortcomings of Lebanon’s current short-term strategy and is addressed at civil society organizations, both locally and internationally, as well as donor organizations.

The paper’s recommendations are anchored in International Law and emphasize key human rights issues such as deportation, arbitrary detention, torture, among other violations.

Report on Conditions of Syrians in Lebanon [here]

An article by Daraj Media reported on the deteriorating conditions of Syrian refugees amid the ongoing crisis in Lebanon, highlighting the following:

  • Around 70% of Syrian refugees do not have a valid residence permit due to the high costs of renewing papers at the General Security in addition to the high costs of penalty fees ;

  • 92% of Syrian workers are employed in informal jobs, meaning that they are not granted any protection under the Labor Law and are not guaranteed safe working conditions nor fair pay;

  • Workplaces that do employ Syrians such as non-governmental organizations tend to pay them less than the salary given to Lebanese employees;

  • Over the years, some Syrians had to resort to paying someone to offer them and their businesses protection against potential attacks;

  • It is often difficult to get a valid work permit due to the discriminatory laws and regulations in the sectors that Syrians are allowed to work in, in addition to the sponsorship requirement similarly to migrant workers;

  • Most working Syrian women are employed in agriculture and the service sectors.

Report on Worsening Conditions of Palestinians and Syrians in Shatila Camp [here]

An article by Al Jazeera English reported on the conditions of Palestinian and Syrian residents of Shatila camp with the crisis and the funding cuts to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) which started in 2020.

The cuts have already started manifesting severe effects on Palestinian children’s access to education, as well as a decline in general access to healthcare.

Additionally, houses are at a constant risk of collapsing and cracking due to the poor infrastructure in the camp that has been neglected for years by the Lebanese state which relied on UNRWA for all sorts of support and service provision to Palestinian refugee camps.