In Lebanon this month,
like spring flowers,
proposals to give Palestinians
the right to work
are bursting out all over
Shatila Palestinian Refugee Camp
This year, the Merry
Month of May in Lebanon includes Labor day, the May 15 anniversary of the
Nakba, the month long Lebanese municipal elections and the May 5 elevation of
Lebanon to the Presidency of the United Nations Security Council. Yet, for most
Palestinians wiling away their lives in Lebanon's 12 fetid refugee camps and 27
gatherings, May will pass anything but Merry. The festive Labor day and month
long elections, held in the 26 municipalities in Lebanon, with the
participation of more than 650 glad-handing vote-seeking candidates extolling
the Lebanese virtue of working to provide for one's family, constitute a cruel
joke for Palestinian refugees denied the right to work.
The May 15th anniversary of the Nakba reminds the World that Lebanon's "camp Palestinians", approximately 15% of the 750,000+ who were ethnically cleansed six decades ago, suffer an existence that is demonstrably the most inhumane of any of the 58 camps in the Middle East, including Gaza. Warehoused in open air prisons, their children are among the most discriminated against of this largest and oldest refugee population on earth. With drug use, drop-out rates, violence, health issues rising fast-- test scores, school attendance, academic achievements, hope and self-esteem are plummeting.
Lebanon's May Day pledge to the UN: " We are honored and will fulfill our responsibility towards the Palestinian cause"
Despite proudly producing one of the authors of the 1949 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, its current membership on the governing board of the International Labor Organization, and now holding the Presidency of the UN Security Council (UNSC), the first time in half a century, doubts remain whether Lebanon is up to its international duty. Entrusted by the international community with the exigent work of implementing internationally mandated civil rights, doubts remain whether Lebanon will fulfill its pledge relating to civil rights for refugees including the right to work and the protection of refugee children. Increasingly the international community, as well as its own population, is urging Lebanon, now being referred to as "Mr. President" before the Security Council and the entire United Nations, as it prepares to preside over the UNSC agenda on the subject of "Arab responsibilities towards the Palestinian cause" to begin its critical work where the need is arguably the most exigent. That would be inside the borders of Lebanon itself.
Last week, introducing an Arab University Beirut (AUB) workshop on the subject of securing the right to work for Palestinian refugees, Rami Khoui, Director of the Issam Farris Institute and prolific writer on Middle East affairs, told the participants "The atmosphere in Lebanon, at least on the level of rhetoric, is changing in favor of civil rights for Palestinian refugees." And so it is. The question remains whether popular will can generate enough political will for the Cabinet and Parliament to enact an elementary civil right to work into Lebanese law.
Lebanese bureaucracy, as in many countries, can make the most pro forma paper work task inordinately complicated. Consequently, for Palestinians in Lebanon, obtaining a work permit will remain a major hurdle for a variety of reasons including 'security considerations', lack of awareness by the applicant of how to proceed, the economic exploitive advantage to Lebanese businessmen and women who prefer cheap illegal Palestinian labor which literally subsidizes the Lebanese economy by millions of dollars annually, and inflate their personal profits--as well as occasionally bigoted government workers in some ministries. Support for this assertion in found in the recent 2009 Najdeh (Help) Association (www.associaton-najdeh.org) survey that found that only 1.2% of Lebanon's Palestinian refugee camps residents have been granted work permits. The past month a total of 2 work permits have been granted Palestinians, but since the work permit must be renewed annually these two could simply be renewals.
Through sustained and varied efforts, and to their eternal credit, Lebanese civil society organizations, international and local non government organization's (NGO) and even some Lebanese politicians are pushing for enactment of legislation to grant basic civil rights to Palestinian refugees. The initial batch of drafts bills vary significantly. As they are discussed in conferences, meetings and workshops, there is a perceptible trend in the direction of merging the key elements into a sort of 'unity bill' that will include the minimal acceptable elements-- granting Palestinian refugees the right to work, an identification document, access to public education and lifting the legal prohibition barring home ownership.