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Deadline for refugee policy passes without action

Syrian refugees wait their turn at a UNHCR registration center, one of many across Lebanon, in the northern port city of Tripoli on April 3, 2014. AFP PHOTO/JOSEPH EID

BEIRUT: While ministers have released a flurry of policies, proposals and memorandums concerning the Syrian refugee crisis, it appears that few concrete steps have been taken to bolster Lebanese institutions in the face of the historic refugee influx.

Despite a set of ambitious new policies put forth by the Interior Ministry to curb the flow of Syrian refugees into Lebanon from June 1, the thrust of the plan has not been put into effect at the border.

According to the policies, Syrian refugees who have traveled to Syria since June 1 risk having their refugee status revoked. The decision drew the ire of humanitarian agencies, who say that a refugee should not be denied lifesaving aid simply if they travel to Syria, as many have legitimate reasons for doing so.

Security sources say the policy has not yet been put into place, however.

UNHCR spokesperson Dana Sleiman confirmed that the aid agency was cooperating with the government on the new policy, but that the parties were still working out the “modalities” of its implementation.

“We’re going to implement this decision jointly,” she told The Daily Star, adding that the aid organization was on the “same page” with the authorities.

She said that while precise numbers were almost impossible to predict, it was possible that some people “are able to return who have no fear of persecution or generalized violence, and should not necessarily enjoy international protection.”

Sleiman insisted, however, that the decision to revoke refugee status would be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Although the precise means of enforcing the policy have not been determined, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil held talks today with U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly and ambassadors of the non-permanent members of the U.N. Security Council to brief them on the directive, the state-run National News Agency reported.

Another aspect of the policy, which adds onerous eligibility requirements for Palestinians from Syria to enter the country, has been implemented. Women and children have been sent back to Syria by General Security at the border, according to a new briefing report by Amnesty International.

Speaking with the envoys of Argentina, Australia, Jordan, Nigeria, Korea and Chile, in addition to Plumbly, Bassil discussed ways the international community could help Lebanon face the tremendous challenges posed by the presence of more than 1.3 million Syrian refugees on its territory.

Economy Minister Alain Hakim discussed a number of new policies to ameliorate the climate for Lebanese job seekers at a meeting Wednesday.

“There is a need to develop legal frameworks for Syrian labor in Lebanon as soon as possible, because informal employment will lead to increased unemployment in Lebanon,” Hakim said.

The policies, which sources said were laden with “political considerations,” will soon be recommended to Tammam Salam’s government.

While the current bilateral arrangement allows Syrians to be employed in Lebanon without work permits, the Economy Ministry hopes to annul this pact.

Under the new proposals set forth by Hakim, Lebanon would “refuse for any foreign worker to work inside Lebanon without a specific license from the Labor Ministry,” according to Professor Jasem Ajaka, the minister’s adviser for economic affairs.

Under the new proposals, refugees would not be allowed to work without specific permission from the government, and Lebanese companies would have to ensure that foreign workers comprise no more than 10 percent of their workforce.

Though employers may not initially favor such policies as they will lead to increased labor costs, Ajaka said he was confident they would result in decreased unemployment over time.

Ajaka admitted, however, that even if the proposals were accepted by the Cabinet, the ultimate economic impact of these proposals was contingent upon proper implementation.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 03, 2014, on page 4.

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Summary

While ministers have released a flurry of policies, proposals and memorandums concerning the Syrian refugee crisis, it appears that few concrete steps have been taken to bolster Lebanese institutions in the face of the historic refugee influx.

According to the policies, Syrian refugees who have traveled to Syria since June 1 risk having their refugee status revoked.

Economy Minister Alain Hakim discussed a number of new policies to ameliorate the climate for Lebanese job seekers at a meeting Wednesday.

Under the new proposals set forth by Hakim, Lebanon would "refuse for any foreign worker to work inside Lebanon without a specific license from the Labor Ministry," according to Professor Jasem Ajaka, the minister's adviser for economic affairs.

Under the new proposals, refugees would not be allowed to work without specific permission from the government, and Lebanese companies would have to ensure that foreign workers comprise no more than 10 percent of their workforce.


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