Lebanon: Seize Opportunity to End Discrimination Against Palestinians

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Lebanon: Seize Opportunity to End Discrimination Against Palestinians

Remove Restrictions on Owning Property and Working

BEIRUT - Members of Lebanon's parliament should vote to end restrictions on
Palestinian refugees' rights to own property and work, Human Rights
Watch said today. The Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) introduced a
bill on June 15, 2010, that would cancel prohibitions on property
ownership and social security benefits for Palestinians, and ease
restrictions on their right to work.

Following a heated debate, the speaker of the house, Nabih Berri,
referred the bill to the parliament's Administration and Justice
Committee for further study. The full parliament will vote on it in a
month. The National Syrian Socialist Party (NSSP) says it plans to
introduce a second bill in the coming days that would go even further
in easing restrictions on Palestinian refugees.

"Lebanon has marginalized Palestinian refugees for too long,"
said Nadim Houry, Beirut director at Human Rights Watch. "Parliament
should seize this opportunity to turn the page and end discrimination
against Palestinians."
Lebanon's estimated 300,000 Palestinian refugees live in
appalling social and economic conditions - most of them in crowded
camps that lack essential infrastructure. In 2001, Parliament passed a
law prohibiting Palestinians from owning property, a right they had for
decades. Lebanese law also restricts their ability to work in many
areas. In 2005, Lebanon eliminated a ban on Palestinians holding most
clerical and technical positions, provided they obtain a temporary work
permit from the Labor Ministry, but more than 20 high-level professions
remain off-limits to Palestinians.

Few Palestinians have benefited from the 2005 reform, though. In
2009, only 261 of more than 145,679 permits issued to non-Lebanese were
for Palestinians. Civil society groups say many Palestinians choose not
to apply because they cannot afford the fees and see no reason to pay a
portion of their salary toward the National Social Security Fund, since
Lebanese law bars Palestinians from receiving social security benefits.
Many Lebanese employers are also unwilling to support Palestinian
workers in getting a work permit.

The proposed law would grant Palestinians the right to obtain
social security benefits and end-of-service compensation, and allow
them to bring complaints before the labor arbitration courts. However,
it would keep the work permit system for clerical jobs in place and not
address the ban on Palestinians working in certain professions,
including law, medicine, and engineering. For these jobs, membership in
the relevant syndicate is required - and most syndicates condition
membership for foreigners on reciprocity in their home country. This
effectively bars the stateless Palestinians.

The second bill expected to be introduced would go further to
address these exclusions. It would exempt Palestinian refugees
registered in Lebanon from the requirement of obtaining a work permit
altogether and would grant Palestinians the right to join all
professional syndicates organized by law.

Reforms to labor laws to end discrimination against Palestinian
refugees in all professions are essential to improving their dire
situation in Lebanon, Human Rights Watch said. According to the United
Nations Relief and Works Agency, the organization set up to address the
needs of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and elsewhere, Palestinian
refugees in Lebanon have the highest proportion of special hardship
cases among those in any country in the region.

An extensive study by the Norwegian social welfare research
organization Fafo found that just 15 percent of adult Palestinians have
employment contracts. Forced to work illegally and without legal
protection, Palestinians face severe discrimination in wages and
hiring. Many employers pay them less than their Lebanese colleagues, or
refuse to hire Palestinians.

"If there is a work shortage, they will hire you, [but] because
you're Palestinian and it's not allowed, they will pay you half," one
Palestinian told Human Rights Watch. As Palestinians, he added, "We are
not asking for money, we are asking for the right to work, to live in
dignity."

Increasingly, Lebanese politicians have begun to voice support
for providing Palestinians their basic rights. In December, Lebanon's
unity government adopted a ministerial declaration that promised to
provide Palestinians' "humanitarian and social rights" in Lebanon. And
in January, Labor Minister Boutros Harb told a gathering at the General
Labor Federation that, "Palestinians must be granted their basic civil
rights in Lebanon until they return to their homeland."
"It is time to turn words into actions," Houry said. "The coming
weeks will make it clear whether Lebanon's politicians are engaging in
empty rhetoric or whether they are truly committed to the rights of the
Palestinians."

Politicians from several parties have echoed these calls. During
the debate in parliament on June 15, Prime Minister Saad Hariri said,
"We have a historic opportunity to vote on the proposal; there are
people in need."

Critics of the bill, even as they urged caution, agreed. Lebanese
Forces member George Adwan said, "It is unacceptable for Palestinians
not to get their rights, on the basis of our humanity and commitment to
their cause, as well as the situation in the camps."

And a Free Patriotic Movement member, Alain Aoun, agreed, saying, "We cannot deny anyone in Lebanon their human rights."

 

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