Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Palestinians not really satisfied with changes to Lebanese labour laws

 Palestinian refugee camp Ein al Hilweh near Saida (Sidon).

Recent amendments to Lebanese law grant work permits to Palestinians in the private sector, and some welfare benefits. According to UNRWA, the UN’s agency for Palestinian Refugees, they are a step in the right direction. Many Palestinians, however, are less happy with the changes.
The new law took effect on 17 August. It allows Palestinians to work in all professions open to foreigners. Also work permits, which hitherto cost US$ 300, are now free of charge. On top of that Palestinians can benefit from end of service payouts from a special account in the Social Security Fund and have the right to medical treatment in the event of work-related accidents.
A major grievance of the Palestinians is that they still cannot work in professions like medicine, engineering, law, real estate management, and accountancy. The new law has changed very little, said Layla el-Ali, head of Association Najdeh (AN), a Palestinian NGO in Lebanon. 

Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are regarded as foreigners and thus effectively excluded from civil and socio-economic rights. This is in part due to the fact that several rights are conditioned on the principle of reciprocity, which in the absence of a Palestinian state creates an insurmountable impediment. Although the new law has cancelled the reciprocity principle, El-Ali said it did not go far enough. “We wanted to cancel the reciprocity laws from social law, as well as lift the ban on becoming a member of professional syndicates,” thereby allowing Palestinians permanent residency, the right to own property and access to all jobs, she said. 

In Syria some 472,000 registered Palestinian refugees have the same rights and privileges as Syrian citizens, except citizenship. In Jordan the 1.9 million registered refugees have full Jordanian citizenship with the exception of about 120,000 refugees originally from the Gaza Strip who are eligible for temporary Jordanian passports. In Lebanon there are about 425,000 Palestinians in 12 camps, according to UNRWA estimates. They constitute 10% of the population. Their socio-economic conditions are quite bad, but changes to their status are very difficult to realize. A majority of  Lebanese politicians fear that granting the mainly Sunni Moslim Palestinians the right to residency and civil rights would lead to their permannt settlement in Lebanon, thereby upsetting the delicate balance between Christians and other groups in the country.    

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