Crackdown on thousands of Syrian refugees with illegal jobs in Lebanon

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Syrian children wait to carry customers' goods using wheelbarrows, in front of the Tazweed Center at the Al-Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, December 7, 2014. (Reuters)
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Syrian refugees work near tents at a makeshift camp at the Lebanese border town of Arsal, Lebanon January 9, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 11 July 2019

Crackdown on thousands of Syrian refugees with illegal jobs in Lebanon

  • On the fines for each violation, he said: “Employers must pay a fine of 1.5 million Lebanese pounds (about $1,600) for every violation

BEIRUT: Inspectors from the Lebanese Ministry of Labor carried out raids on shops, factories and establishments employing illegal foreign labor, especially Syrian workers across the country on Wednesday. The ministry has given employers a month to regularize the situation of their foreign workers.
Lebanon hosts 938,531 Syrian refugees registered with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and they are not allowed to work. The country also hosts about half-a-million Syrian workers allowed to work in agriculture, construction and as janitors in buildings and establishments after getting sponsorship from the employer.
The Ministry of Labor’s campaign targeted Beirut, Beirut’s southern suburbs, Jounieh, Bekaa, the south and the north. Violators were asked to regularize their situation. A number of grocery stores, small restaurants and auto repair shops run by Syrians were closed, and barbers, beauty salons, water distribution companies, butcheries, sewing shops and bakeries employing Syrians were given time to regulate their workers’ situation.
Labor Minister Kamil Abu Suleiman said: “Those who are betting on time for the plan to back down are mistaken, and those who think we lack patience and will grow tired are also mistaken.”
“We are applying the law in a courteous, calm and dignified but strict manner,” he added.
Abu Suleiman rejected the argument that there is “the scarcity or lack of Lebanese workers in some sectors.” He said: “It is unacceptable to say that there are no Lebanese workers. They must prove this to us. These are merely words that people are passing on. We are not against registering foreign workers, but we are against this logic. If they prove to us that there are no Lebanese workers, only then we shall contact the competent unions to verify the truth of this argument and give the foreign workers work permits—but this excuse is totally unacceptable.”
On the fines for each violation, he said: “Employers must pay a fine of 1.5 million Lebanese pounds (about $1,600) for every violation. If a shop is not licensed, it will be closed until the owner regulates his situation. A violation can be resolved within a period of two weeks, and the owner/employer will be required to pay 10 percent of the fine, which equals 250,000 Lebanese pounds.”
The Ministry of Labor’s plan to combat illegal foreign labor highlighted that “the number of Syrian refugees is almost a third of the Lebanese population, and hundreds of thousands of them are competing with the Lebanese citizens in various sectors. Their work is no longer limited to agriculture and construction, but they have moved their markets, establishments and brand names to Lebanon and opened thousands of illegal shops. There are also seasonal and temporary workers, and this situation cannot be borne by any country in the world.”
Abu Suleiman pointed out that there has been a rumor that Syrian workers do not need work permits, and that obtaining from the Lebanese General Security a temporary residence permit that is constantly renewed would exempt them from the need for a work permit.”
The Ministry of Labor figures showed that in the middle of this year, the number of Syrians with valid work permits was only 1,733.
The minister said: “Employers are not registering Syrian workers despite the fact that there are facilitations and exemptions, therefore a plan had to be developed to combat everything that is illegal.”
UNHCR spokesperson Lisa Abou Khaled told Arab News: “While three quarters of Syrian refugees in Lebanon live below the poverty line and 51 percent live under the extreme poverty line (on less than $3 per day), less than half of the population receive food support ($27 per person per month) and only 19 percent receive other cash support ($175 for a whole family per month). As a result, 90 percent of Syrian refugees have $1,000 in debt because they cannot cover their most essential needs.”
She added: “UN agencies, including UNHCR, are in discussion with the Ministry of Labor on the issue of employment of Syrian refugees. It is important for us that refugees are aware of discussions and decisions that may impact them.

FASTFACT

• Lebanon hosts 938,531 Syrian refugees registered with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and these are not allowed to work.

• The country also hosts about half-a-million Syrian workers allowed to work in certain sectors.

• Lebanon also has 200,000 Palestinian refugees who have been living in camps for six decades and are allowed to work in 73 occupations after obtaining a work permit.

“As you know, Syrians are allowed to work in three sectors (agriculture, construction, environment/cleaning services). This has been the case historically, even before the start of the Syria crisis.
“The nature of the work in these three sectors is often on a daily labor basis, and has been historically less regulated than other sectors. If documents are required in the informal casual labor field, it is important that refugees have the possibility to comply with these requirements, including those who may not have all their ID documents. It is common for a person in a refugee situation to lack certain identity documents that they may have left behind when they fled.”
A number of human rights organizations working in the field of relief for Syrian refugees in Lebanon have spoken up against the restrictions on Syrian refugees. They also called on the Lebanese authorities to “guarantee the right of defense against the forcible deportation of Syrians from Lebanon.”
These organizations include the Legal Agenda, Ruwad Al-Houkouk, Alef, the Lebanese Center for Human Rights, Umam Documentation and Research, Lebanon Support, the Social Media Exchange (SMEX) and the Lebanese Observatory of Workers and Employees’ Rights.
These organizations believe that the decisions of the Supreme Council of Defense and the director-general of General Security to deport all the Syrians who sneaked into Lebanon after April 24, 2019, are a violation of the constitution, Lebanese laws and international obligations. They argued that these decisions authorize the implementation of deportation decisions by non-competent authorities and under summary offenses without ensuring that the Syrians’ lives and freedoms are not at risk in Syria and without granting Syrians the right to defense through judicial recourse.
According to the human rights organizations, these decisions jeopardize the lives of Syrians who are at risk if they are forcibly returned to Syria, with consideration for the sovereignty of the Lebanese State and its right to protect its borders.


UN chief warns foreign interference in Libya `unprecedented’

Updated 09 July 2020

UN chief warns foreign interference in Libya `unprecedented’

UNITED NATIONS: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that foreign interference in Libya’s war has reached “unprecedented levels” and urged key players and their backers to unblock the political stalemate and agree to a cease-fire and peace talks.
Calling the current situation “gloomy,” the UN chief said Wednesday that the United Nations political mission in Libya is undertaking de-escalation efforts, “including the creation of a possible demilitarized zone,” to try to reach a negotiated solution and spare lives. He said between April 1 and June 30 there were at least 102 civilian deaths and 254 civilians wounded in Libya, “a 172% increase compared to the first quarter of 2020.”
Guterres addressed a high-level meeting of the UN Security Council six months after leaders of 11 world powers and other countries with interests in Libya’s long-running civil war agreed at a conference in Berlin to respect a much-violated UN arms embargo, hold off on military support to the warring parties, and push them to reach a full cease-fire.
Guterres and speaker after speaker decried the failure of the parties to adhere to the Berlin agreement and demand its speedy implementation.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, South Africa’s Minister for International Relations Naledi Pandor and Egypt’s foreign minister were among those urging a cease-fire.
“We all took strong commitments in the Berlin conference in January and it’s now time to translate our words into concrete actions,” European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told the virtual meeting. “The polarization that has turned Libya into a theater for proxy-war needs to stop. Action in support of one or the other Libyan parties needs to stop.”
Libya has been in turmoil since 2011, when a civil war toppled long-time dictator Muammar Qaddafi, who was later killed. The country has since split between rival administrations in the east and the west, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.
Eastern forces under Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive trying to take Tripoli in April 2019, and the crisis in the oil-rich country has steadily worsened as foreign backers increasingly intervened despite pledges at the Berlin conference.
Haftar’s offensive is supported by France, Russia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and other key Arab countries. The government in Tripoli is backed by Turkey — which sent troops and mercenaries to protect the capital in January — as well as Italy and Qatar.
Tripoli-based forces with Turkish support gained the upper hand in the war in early June after retaking the capital’s airport, all main entrance and exit points to the city and a string of key towns near Tripoli. They threatened to retake the strategic city of Sirte, which could allow them to gain control of oil fields and facilities in the south that Haftar seized earlier this year as part of his offensive on Tripoli.
Egypt warned that it would intervene militarily if Turkish-backed forces attacked Sirte and the inland Jufra air base.
Guterres told the Security Council that forces supporting the government are now 25 kilometers (15 miles) west of Sirte, after two previous attempts to gain control of the city.
“The situation on the front lines has been mostly quiet since June 10,” he said. “However, we are very concerned about the alarming military buildup around the city, and the high level of direct foreign interference in the conflict in violation of the UN arms embargo, UN Security Council resolutions, and the commitments made by member states in Berlin.”
Turkey’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal stressed that it was in Libya to support the legitimate government at its request and supported the Berlin agreement for providing “the architecture for intra-Libyan talks.”
Referring to Haftar’s offensive, Onal said: “Placing the aggressor on equal footing with the legitimate UN-recognized government is wrong and counterproductive. This grave mistake must be corrected.” And he said blaming Turkey for what’s happening in Libya “amounts to hypocrisy.”
Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, whose country currently holds the council presidency and chaired the meeting, expressed dismay that while other countries were trying to save lives in the COVID-19 pandemic in recent months, hospitals in Libya were being bombed and “ships, planes and trucks with weapons and mercenaries kept arriving in Libyan cities.”
He said foreign interference, “the main driver of the conflict in Libya,” must be brought to an end, and there must be “no more lies” and “backdoor deals” where foreign parties carve out spheres of influence.
“We will use the measures at our disposal, including targeted sanctions, to make sure that Libya is no longer the battleground in a foreign war,” Maas warned.
He urged all parties to unite behind UN-led peace efforts and behind a first important step which could be “a demilitarized solution for Sirte and Jufra.”