BEIRUT/SIDON: Prime Minister Saad Hariri Monday exerted efforts to address the concerns of Palestinians in Lebanon, as their protests against a crackdown by the Labor Ministry on foreign workers without permits entered a second week. Mireille Girard, the representative of the United Nations refugee agency, met with Hariri in Beirut.
“We discussed the situation of the refugees at the moment in Lebanon, and issues related to the refugees file, and how we can work together to address this file,” she said, according to a statement from Hariri’s office.
A UNHCR spokesperson clarified to The Daily Star that the pair discussed issues relating to not only Palestinian but also Syrian refugees, whom the ban also affects.
Hariri met with former MP Imad Hout and “discussed the issue of the foreign labor, specifically the Palestinians, who are different from foreigners and this should be taken into consideration,” Hout said after the meeting.
The comments echoed recent remarks by a senior official from the Hamas Movement, who told Hariri Friday that Palestinian refugees were “not like visitors or foreign workers.”
Efforts to address the situation were not limited to the premier’s office. Hamas Movement leader Ismail Haniyeh Monday called on Speaker Nabih Berri to support Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.
“We look forward to you [Berri] intervening in order to put an end to these measures and to enable Palestinian workers to live in dignity,” Haniyeh wrote in a letter to Lebanon’s speaker.
In Syria Monday, the Alliance of Palestinian Forces met with members of Lebanon’s Coalition Leadership in Damascus, and agreed to “reject [Lebanese Labor Minister Camille] Abousleiman’s decision,” according to a statement from the alliance.
The two bodies also stressed the strong fraternal relations between Palestinians and Lebanese.
Earlier in July, a monthlong grace period expired for foreign workers in Lebanon to resolve their legal status. Since then, the Labor Ministry has begun more strictly enforcing a law requiring non-Lebanese laborers to hold a work permit.
This affects Palestinians residing in Lebanon, who are legally considered foreign workers, despite having lived in the country for several generations.
A 2017 census found that almost 175,000 Palestinians were spread across Lebanon’s 12 camps, on the outskirts of the camps and cities or in villages with a significant Palestinian population.
The United Nations estimates the national figure to be closer to 270,000.
As of late last week, the Labor Ministry had found 600 violations to the law since its inspections began. Two of them were issued to Palestinians, including to a factory owned by a Palestinian in Koura that Abousleiman said would be reopened soon after the necessary paperwork was sorted.
The ministry Monday fined another 65 establishments, warned four and closed two others. Abousleiman could not be reached for comment on how many of these cases involved Palestinian workers.
Late last week, the minister promised to smooth Palestinians’ ability to obtain a work permit.
For example, Abousleiman proposed exempting them from enrolling in the National Social Security Fund, a criterion he described Monday as “illogical” in an interview with LBCI.
Even so, Palestinian authorities in Sidon’s camps have not been placated, and have called for an end to the crackdown.
Over the weekend, protesters massed in central Sidon until Lebanese Army members dispersed the crowds into smaller streets.
The Joint Palestinian Labor Authority called for the protests to continue for a second week, but said roads leading to and from the camps should be left unblocked so that residents could go to work.
The protests last week had blocked all entrances to the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp, stemming the flow of foodstuffs into the camp and preventing residents from reaching workplaces.
The demonstrations resumed from 6 p.m. Monday evening.
In Ain al-Hilweh, the country’s largest Palestinian refugee camp, protesters marched to oppose the crackdown as Army personnel stationed across the city looked on.
Unless significant changes are made, the unrest is unlikely to calm anytime soon.
Maj. Gen Munir Maqdah, who heads the joint Palestinian security forces in Lebanon, told The Daily Star, “Palestinians are still deprived of their civil, social and humanitarian rights.”
The time has come for the state to better “organize” the lives of the Palestinians, he said.
He added that he believed the atmosphere was “positive” despite the recent developments, and that the government would work to promote the rights of the Palestinian refugees.
Maqdah also reiterated the Palestinians’ rejection of permanent resettlement in Lebanon, referencing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, according to Palestinian official news agency WAFA.
“Every political force, and above all [Abbas], has confirmed that we will continue to resist resettlement and remain strong in the right to return to” Palestine, he added.