By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
The latest campaign of the Lebanese Ministry of Labor against “foreign labor” in Lebanon instigated wide-spread protests amongst the Palestinian refugees, who felt that they were targeted by this campaign. This was so despite the different political and legal status of the Palestinian refugees, who did not come to Lebanon in search of work, rather it was a forced displacement carried out by Zionist gangs in the 1948 war, and resulted in a forced asylum situation since they were prevented from returning to their towns and villages.
An Ongoing Suffering
After more than seventy years, Lebanon remains the country where Palestinian refugees suffer the most, where they are deprived of many of their economic and human rights, including working in certain professions, procedural complications in obtaining work permits, and denial of the right to own property. As for property inheritance, contrary to all rumors the current law officially allows Palestinian refugees to inherit property and register it under their names, however, usually this is a path full of complications.
During the past fifteen years, limited measures were taken to alleviate some of the suffering of refugees. The number of prohibited professions was decreased, and some law amendments in 2010 revoked the “reciprocity of treatment” usually applied among states. They now have the opportunity to benefit partially from the social security system, where previously the refugee or his employer had to pay 23% of his fees, without obtaining social security benefits, whereas now the refugee can obtain an 8.5% benefit, i.e., the end of service benefits.
Therefore, practically speaking the problem still persists, whether concerning being banned to work certain jobs and professions, or obtaining a work permit, or in terms of the social security justice that takes far more than it gives.
Refugees: A Positive Development Force
The concerns of some parties regarding the “employment” of Palestinians, and that they will compete with the Lebanese, are unfounded concerns. According to an official Lebanese census of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, they number around 174 thousand, and if we suppose that there are some whom were not included in the census, we may add tens of thousands, and the number would be about 220 thousand. But according to the figures of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) there are about 500 thousand refugees, which means that there is a Palestinian “hemorrhage,” where about 300 thousand are temporarily or permanently residing abroad. Thus, if the number of women (50%) is subtracted, as the overwhelming majority of them do not work, and if the number of children under the age of 18 (30–35%) was also subtracted from the total, then the real Palestinian labor force is around 50 thousand , more than half of them (according to academic studies) are unemployed, and many of them (around 27%) work inside the refugee camps (RCs) on their own. Therefore, Palestinian labor force is limited, and even small compared to others.
On a second note, claiming that the Palestinian refugees are a burden on the Lebanese government is an exaggeration; For this government, does not spend on RCs’ infrastructure, neither does it offer special services to Palestinian refuges out of its budget. Furthermore, Palestinians are not included among the beneficiaries of the health, education and social welfare systems.
Third, aside from the fact that it is a normal human right, allowing Palestinians to work is by itself a service to the Lebanese economy. For it would reflect positively on the development process and meet the needs of different sectors. It would turn the refugee from being an unproductive negative energy to becoming a productive energy, and an added value. The “legitimization” of a refugee’s work will result in his entry into the tax system and the payment of various fees. Thus, adding a new asset to the state treasury.
Fourth, the Palestinian worker in Lebanon would spend his money in Lebanon, and thus would redistribute his income over the various sectors of the Lebanese economy, which is a development catalyst in the country. This is unlike “foreign” workers who transfer hundreds of millions of dollars to their home countries.
Fifth, the Palestinian refugees with Lebanese travel documents, who had to work abroad in the Gulf countries, Europe and other countries, transfer annually hundreds of millions of dollars. Many of them even would like to invest in Lebanon, which would positively reflect on the economy.
Sixth, the continued restrictions on Palestinian refugees and denying them their right to work, lead to their suffering feelings of injustice and oppression. This would give rise to conditions ripe for extremism and the increase in social problems. Some parties would exploit the needs of refugees to recruit them for their own agendas, which would harm the country, its security and stability. Therefore, the work of refugees in decent conditions is a political, security and social need for Lebanon, and an economic need as well.
Seventh, international scientific studies indicate that immigration has often a positive influence on the economies of countries, if they handled it well. Supporting such notion is the Hamilton Project (which is an economic policy initiative at the Brookings Institution (one of the most prominent think tanks worldwide) launched in April 2006). Its studies confirm the role of immigrants in economic growth and boosting innovation. Studies show that many of the major global companies were founded by “immigrants” such as Google, Intel, PayPal, eBay… and others. More than half the patents in USA were filed by “immigrants” or their children…although these constitute only 15% of the population.
The Palestinians who were forced to seek asylum in Lebanon carried with them 150 million Palestinian pound (Around $15 billion according to current currency exchange), and who are well known for how much they contributed to the growth of the Lebanese economy, and the establishment of many large institutions, are capable of continuing their positive economic role. Therefore, the Lebanese political leadership is required to take the forced migration condition of the Palestinians into consideration, dealing positively with it, and building on other experiences in the same context.
Stumbling Approaches and Solutions
The Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee (LPDC), an official committee attached to the office of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, made an approach resulting in the issuance of the document, in January 2017, entitled “A Unified Lebanese Vision For the Palestinian Refugees Affairs In Lebanon,” that was approved by the Lebanese political forces; it was considered an important step in addressing the rights of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. The document held the consensus on meeting the human, economic and social rights of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, improving conditions in their camps, “humanizing” security procedures, respecting the peaceful political rights and freedoms of Palestinian refugees, facilitating the establishment and registration of Palestinian associations working in Palestinian circles, and approving the existence of representative committees of the refugee camps.
However, after more than two years, no actual steps were taken, the suffering continued, and the “Palestinian hemorrhage” went on, where many Palestinians were compelled to legally or illegally emigrate from Lebanon. This may be attributed to an “undeclared desire” of some parties to expel Palestinians from Lebanon, due to their fears of “resettlement,” or to their sectarian, economic or political calculations. Nevertheless, one must mention that the Lebanese political and legislative system is slow and suffers real problems, due to the complex and interlaced political and sectarian structure, which disrupts the interests of the Lebanese themselves, as was the case when choosing the president, forming the government, passing the budget, or even solving the waste crisis. Consequently, many political forces do not see that addressing the rights of refugees is a pressing matter. Even the forces who adopt Palestinian demands, don’t want to pressure their allies who have reservations about the rights of refugees.
Finally, Lebanese forces that are sympathetic with Palestinian rights, who refuse to liquidate the Palestine issue and reject the “deal of the century,” must not be—whether directly or indirectly—part of the pressure that compels Palestinians to leave Lebanon, which will eventually lead to the ending of the Palestinian presence in it. Therefore, the Palestinians must at least be given their normal rights, which will help them stay near Palestine while waiting for their return. Such procedures do not only lift the injustice, or change the bad image of the Lebanese administration, rather they will lead to a qualitative addition to the Lebanese economy and contribute to a more politically, socially and security stable country.
This article was originally published in Arabic on “Arabi 21” on 20/7/2019.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 31/7/2019