There's now a greater right to work for Palestinians in Lebanon, but injustice still prevails: Sami Taha is a qualified and experienced civil engineer who loves his profession. So why is he eking out a living running a small sweet shop? The answer: because he's a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon, where Palestinians have for decades been refused the right to work in all but the most menial of jobs.
'A partial and formal law that doesn't secure the minimum human rights.'
Lebanon has just changed the law to allow greater right to work for Palestinians, but the reforms are not far-reaching enough to enable Sami to work in his chosen profession.
The 400,000 or so Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are mostly descendents of those who came fleeing violence in 1948 with the establishment of the state of Israel. They have suffered more than 60 years of displacement, made worse in Lebanon by not being granted civil rights, including being barred from all but the most menial jobs. Even the jobs that they are allowed to do, they must apply for expensive and bureaucratic work permits for.
Christian Aid's work
Christian Aid partner Association Najdeh is made up of and works with Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Najdeh have spearheaded a campaign for the right to work for Palestinian refugees, as the ban locks people like Sami into poverty and insecurity. Christian Aid has supported the campaign for four years now, and conducted advocacy work on the issue in Europe, including bringing Najdeh’s director to the UK and Brussels to advocate on the right to work.
A change in law
After a long struggle, Lebanon has changed its laws to allow Palestinian refugees greater right to work. The new law opens up some new jobs to Palestinians, and gives them the right to claim free work permits for the private sector. While this represents progress, Najdeh say reforms must be far more comprehensive to have a practical impact on people's lives.
For example, the restrictions on working in medicine, law or engineering still apply, meaning that Sami won't be shutting up his shop any time soon. Despite the fact that he won a scholarship to study in Russia, and then practiced as a civil engineer in Abu Dhabi for 12 years, he’s not allowed to work in Lebanon.
The Palestinian-Lebanese Coalition for the Right to Work Campaign, in which Najdeh plays a central role, called the reform 'a partial and formal law that doesn't secure the minimum human rights, especially the right to work, while keeping the overwhelming conditions of deprivation'.
Further, the coalition point to evidence that shows that even for the jobs they were allowed to do, the main barrier to work for Palestinians was not the cost of the permit, but the bureaucracy surrounding the application, and the problem of finding a Lebanese employer to sponsor the application. The new law does not remove these obstacles.
The bill was a particular disappointment as Palestinians had placed much hope in the discussion in parliament, as Palestinian rights have been a taboo subject for so long.
While the discussion and new law are a step towards breaking that taboo, they haven't smashed it as hoped. Najdeh promises to continue its fight for the rights of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. And Christian Aid will continue our support until people like Sami can live and work in the dignity they deserve.