Palestinian refugees protest Lebanese Labor Ministry restrictions

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Palestinian protesters head toward the Lebanese Parliament. (Supplied)
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Protesters demonstrate in front of the entrance to the camp of Ain Al-Hilweh. (Supplied)
Updated 16 July 2019

Palestinian refugees protest Lebanese Labor Ministry restrictions

  • All Palestinian political forces and popular committees took part in the protests

BEIRUT: Palestinian refugees in Lebanon expressed their anger on Tuesday at the decision of the Lebanese Ministry of Labor to classify Palestinian labor similarly to illegal Syrian labor. 

The refugees carried out a general strike and protests across 12 camps.

The protests, under the slogan “Day of Anger,” paralyzed movement in the camps. Protesters closed the entrances with burning tyres. All Palestinian political forces and popular committees took part in the protests. 

The speaker of the Lebanese Parliament, Nabih Berri, received a letter from the head of the Palestinian National Council, Salim Zanoun, calling on him to “address the negative effects of the decision of the Lebanese Ministry of Labor.”

Zanoun said that Palestinians would support “Lebanon and its stability, as well as our determination to struggle together for the return of the Palestinian refugees, who have been graciously hosted by Lebanon for 71 years, and all refugees to their land and homes from which they were displaced by terrorism and the Israeli killing machine.”

Zanoun added that the decision of the Ministry of Labor has “caused great damage to human and civil rights and closed the doors of life for the Palestinian refugees.”

A source in the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee (LPDC) said: “The protests are an expression of the deteriorating social and living conditions experienced by Palestinians in Lebanon. The decision of the Ministry of Labor inspired these protests.”

The source added: “The census conducted by the Lebanese state in cooperation with the Palestinian Authority in 2017 showed that the number of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon has reached 174,000 and the Palestinian labor force doesn’t exceed 40,000 workers. But if we repeat the census this year, we’ll find that there’s a decline in the labor force because of the quest to migrate, even if illegally, and to move to a third country in search of a better life.”

The Lebanese Parliament introduced amendments to laws 128 and 129 on labor and social security in 2010, which excludes “exclusively Palestinian refugee workers, who are duly registered in the records of the Ministry of the Interior, from the terms of reciprocity and work permit issued by the Ministry of Labor.”

The LPDC source said: “The amendment needed implementation decrees from the Council of Ministers, signed by the president, the prime minister and the minister of labor, but they’ve not been issued for nine years.”

The Palestinian labor force is present in fragile sectors such as construction and small crafts, but more problems arise among Palestinians who graduate from Lebanese universities and cannot work in their specialties because of trade union limitations. The source said that the Order of Nurses in Lebanon is the only union that allows Palestinians to work in their sector.

Alongside the protests, a meeting was held between various Palestinian factions at the headquarters of the LPDC with representatives of the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers. The Palestinian side called for “ending the measures of the Ministry of Labor regarding Palestinian refugees and not linking Palestinian labor in Lebanon with foreign labor.”

Ghassan Ayoub, a Palestinian member of the LPDC, said that the ministry’s actions “have a political impact. The Palestinian refugee isn’t a guest who has remained in Lebanon because he liked the hospitality.  He’s a forced refugee who was born in Lebanon and lives on his territory. He isn’t a foreign expatriate who came to work in Lebanon. This must be taken into account in the enforcement of the Ministry of Labor’s procedures.”

Ayoub said the situation demanded “the application of the spirit of the law and not the text of the law. There are many complications in the law in terms of obtaining a work permit and conditions for establishing a business. They’re impossible conditions for the Palestinians.”

As for the implications of applying the ministry’s procedures to the refugees in Lebanon, Ayoub said: “Ninety percent of professions are forbidden to Palestinians, which means that they’re entitled to work in only a few sectors, namely porterage and digging, which are arduous. That means you’re telling the Palestinians ‘you have 10 percent of the air to breathe.’ What do you want from the Palestinians? Where should they go? What are the alternatives?”

Palestinian refugees are not entitled to work in 72 professions in Lebanon, and are not permitted access to social security. One of the contradictions of the law is that Palestinians have the right to purchase a taxi but are forbidden to work in it. Moreover, Palestinians are only allowed to fish after obtaining a special permit.

“The plan of the ministry to combat illegal foreign labor force isn’t aimed at the Palestinians and has nothing to do with conspiracy theories,” Lebanese Labor Minister Kamil Abu Sulaiman said. 

“There’s a labor law in Lebanon. We approved a plan a month and a half ago to implement the law and gave a grace period of one month before we began inspections. The law applies to everyone and law enforcement can’t be fragmented.”

Abu Sulaiman added: “The Palestinian reaction is incomprehensible and meaningless.”

He received a call from Ashraf Dabbour, the Palestinian ambassador to Lebanon, and said he informed the diplomat of the ministry’s readiness to facilitate the affairs of the Palestinians.

In an open letter, Dabbour called on Palestinian refugees in Lebanon to avoid being “dragged into what does not serve our just cause. Our goal in the stage of our forced presence in Lebanon is to have a decent life until our return to our homeland, supported by our Lebanese brothers.”

The LPDC said that the Ministry of Labor “ignores the special case of the Palestinian refugees under the amendment of laws 128 and 129 and treats them as foreign workers.” 

The LPDC added: “The Palestinian refugees can’t return to their country, and everything that they produce inside Lebanon remains in it, which strengthens the economic cycle of the country, whether it comes from small entrepreneurs or the hard work of laborers and craftsmen.

“Lebanon also benefits from the funds flowing through the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East’s $80 million budget. They also gain from the efforts of international organizations in Palestinian camps, as well as what Palestinian refugees send to their refugee families in Lebanon, which is estimated at several hundred million dollars.”

Fathi Abu Al-Ardat, secretary in Lebanon of Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Organization, said: “The Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are guests in this country and we respect its sovereignty, but we also respect the decent living of Palestinians in the camps.”


Mobile cinema brings movie magic to Syrian Kurd children

Updated 3 min 48 sec ago

Mobile cinema brings movie magic to Syrian Kurd children

  • Filmmaker Shero Hinde is screening films in remote villages using just a laptop, projector and a canvas screen

SANJAQ SAADUN, Syria: In a schoolyard of rural northeastern Syria, boys and girls break out into giggles watching Charlie Chaplin’s pranks, a rare treat thanks to a mobile cinema roving through the countryside.

In Kurdish-held areas of the northeast, filmmaker Shero Hinde is screening films in remote villages using just a laptop, projector and a canvas screen.

“We’ve already shown films in towns but we wanted children in the villages to enjoy them too,” said the bespectacled 39-year-old with thick greying curly hair.

With some films dubbed into Kurdish and others subtitled, he and a team of volunteers want to spread their love of cinema across Rojava, the Kurdish name of the semi-autonomous northeast of war-torn Syria.

“Our goal is that in a year’s time, there won’t be a kid in Rojava who hasn’t been to the cinema,” the Kurdish filmmaker said.

Sitting on colored plastic chairs in the village of Sanjaq Saadun just before dusk, the boys and girls watch wide-eyed as the first black-and-white images of “The Kid” appear on screen.

Lively piano music rings out across the school basketball court, as Chaplin plays a tramp who rescues an orphaned baby in the 1921 silent movie.

Laughter rises above the darkened playground as he tries to clean the baby’s nose or to feed him from a kettle strung from the ceiling.

In local minds, cinema is tied to tragedy, after a fire ripped through a theater in the nearby town of Amuda in 1960, killing more than 280 children.

The mobile cinema, says Hinde, aims to introduce young children to the magic of the silver screen from the early days of moving pictures — something he missed out on as a schoolboy.

“When we were kids, the cinema was that dark place,” said the filmmaker, wearing black-rimmed glasses and a green T-shirt.

In primary school, he and others were taken to see films inappropriate for their age and in substandard conditions, he recalled.

It was only later that he discovered “the truth and beauty of cinema.”

To give today’s children a different experience, “we’re now trying to substitute that darkness for something beautiful and colorful,” he said.

The mobile cinema’s objective is also to screen “films linked to protecting the environment and personal freedoms,” Hinde said.

On another evening in the village of Shaghir Bazar, children rushed in before the film started to grab front-row seats.

On show that day was “Spirit,” an American animated adventure film about a wild stallion captured by humans who dreams of breaking free and returning to his herd.

Among the audience, Amal Ibrahim said her son Kaddar, seven, and daughter Ayleen, six, were brimming with excitement.

“They could hardly wait to come. They’ve never been to the cinema before,” she said in Kurdish.

Even some of the village’s older men had turned up to see the cartoon adventure, after not having been to the cinema in decades.

Standing to one side, they reminisced about the films of their youth.

Adnan Jawli, 56, came along with his two children. “Today, I brought my kids to the cinema and all my memories are flooding back,” he said.

“Forty years ago, I would go to the cinema and watch the film from outside through the window,” said Jawli.

“It was such a great feeling when the lights dimmed and the film started.”

Hinde’s own credits include “Stories of Destroyed Cities,” a feature-length film about three towns in Syria and Iraq on the road to recovery after Kurdish forces expelled Daesh.

Apart from spearheading the defeat of the militants, Syria’s Kurds have largely stayed out of the country’s eight-year war, instead working toward autonomy after decades of marginalization.

Though Kurdish-led fighters are still battling sleeper cells, Hinde and his team are already looking to the future.

Beyond their roving cinema, they dream of opening a movie theater at a fixed location.

“But that will depend on the war ending and stability returning to the country,” he said.