Anger in Lebanon as Palestinian refugees granted work rights

A picture shows Ein El-Helweh Palestinian refugee camp near the southern Lebanese port city of Sidon. (AFP file photo)
A picture shows Ein El-Helweh Palestinian refugee camp near the southern Lebanese port city of Sidon. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 10 December 2021

Anger in Lebanon as Palestinian refugees granted work rights

A picture shows Ein El-Helweh Palestinian refugee camp near the southern Lebanese port city of Sidon. (AFP file photo)
  • Lebanon has issued a decree granting Palestinian refugees access to jobs in the country

BEIRUT: Labor Minister Mustafa Bayram finalized the decision on Wednesday, but it has been met with criticism, particularly from the Christian right, which has launched a campaign against the minister.

The decision allows Palestinian refugees — many of whom are doctors, lawyers and nurses — to work in the managerial, business, tourism, industrial, information, health, education and service sectors.

It includes “Palestinians born in Lebanese territories, born to a Lebanese mother or married to a Lebanese citizen, and non-registered Palestinians who were born in Lebanon,” but forbids them from joining state security services or free profession syndicates.

Major political parties and figures criticized Palestinian refugees and condemned the decision, warning that it was the beginning of a push for naturalization.

Gebran Bassil, head of the Free Patriotic Movement, said: “The decision violates the labor law and the constitution. It is veiled naturalization and it is rejected.”

In a tweet, he called on labor syndicates to reject the decree and urged the Lebanese public to ignore it. “This is unacceptable and we will not allow the stealing of jobs from Lebanese in such circumstances,” he said.

Former labor minister Sejaan Kazzi said that Bayram’s decision “contradicts the decision issued in 2015,” adding: “This new resolution will increase the Lebanese people’s unemployment rate by 40 percent and open the door to settlement and naturalization.”

The Kataeb Party said: “Instead of Bayram increasing the opportunities for Lebanese people to prevent their state of destitution — with hundreds of them being laid off — he allowed non-Lebanese to compete with them for their livelihoods.”

A source examining the right of Palestinian refugees to work in Lebanon told Arab News that former labor minister Trad Hamadeh tried to push through a similar decree that was canceled by the next prime minister.

The source said: “There is no specific mechanism for the adoption of a ministerial decree.

“Bayram’s decision does not affect Palestinians whose specializations require membership in powerful syndicates. These syndicates also prevent Lebanese who are not members from practicing their professions.

“This decision only allows the use of Palestinian labor in professions that do not require advanced degrees. These are modest craft and manual professions that the Lebanese do not want to work in.

“Simultaneously, this decision prevents a social crisis in the camps as a result of the economic collapse and many unemployed young Palestinians turning to drugs and theft. In other words, it is a decision to defuse the situation.

“Palestinian refugees contribute to Lebanon’s economy; thousands of them are paid in dollars by the Palestine Liberation Organization or international organizations and they spend their money in Lebanon.”

In a press conference on Friday, Bayram said: “What was prohibited by the constitution and laws is still prohibited for the non-Lebanese. Foreign workers in all sectors work under an exception license issued by the labor minister. However, the Lebanese people have the priority in all professions.”

He added: “90 percent of people criticizing us have not read the whole decision. The Lebanese worker holds the priority, and the exception is granted to the foreign worker. Some sectors do not appeal to the Lebanese, such as the construction and agriculture sector, where we gave foreign workers priority.

“The decree gives Palestinians privileges by exempting them from having a work permit and allowing them membership of social security. We are in trouble in the job market and trying to fill the gaps. The Lebanese market needs foreign labor.”

On social media, FPM supporters launched a campaign against Bayram. Some activists referred to the employment of “strangers,” a term that was used to describe Palestinian refugees during the civil war.

Separately, at the end of his tour in Lebanon to examine the Palestinian refugee situation, UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said: “The living conditions in the camps continues to deteriorate, and Palestinians, who are some of the most marginalized groups in Lebanon, are now extremely desperate, frustrated and angry.”

He added: “I met graduates whose only hope for a better future is to emigrate. I met a young father who has nightmares about how to buy milk for his child. I heard of a man who killed his wife because she shared the family’s food basket with neighbors who were hungry. In addition, there is an increased child labor rate, divorce and the collapse of the social fabric.”

Lazzarini welcomed any measures that would ease restrictions on the rights of Palestinian refugees and promised to “make an effort to increase the required funding.”

He said: “The economic and financial collapse in Lebanon was accompanied by the UNRWA’s financial difficulties in maintaining the basic services of refugees, such as education, health and social networking.”


Iran bus drivers stage strike to protest low salaries

Iran bus drivers stage strike to protest low salaries
Updated 16 May 2022

Iran bus drivers stage strike to protest low salaries

Iran bus drivers stage strike to protest low salaries
  • The drivers and workers of the Tehran Bus Company decried the failure to implement a decision by the Supreme Labour Council to introduce a 10 percent salary increase
  • The strike comes days after Iranian media reported that a demonstrator had been killed in the southwestern Iranian city of Dezful during protests over rising food prices

TEHRAN: Dozens of bus drivers went on strike in the Iranian capital Monday to protest over their living conditions following demonstrations in other cities in past days, local media reported.
The drivers and workers of the Tehran Bus Company decried the failure to implement a decision by the Supreme Labour Council to introduce a 10 percent salary increase, reformist Shargh newspaper wrote on Twitter.
The strike comes days after Iranian media reported that a demonstrator had been killed in the southwestern Iranian city of Dezful during protests over rising food prices.
Demonstrators on Monday chanted slogans describing Tehran’s mayor as “incompetent” and calling on him to resign, as seen in a video of the protest tweeted by Shargh.
Tehran mayor Alireza Zakani attended a meeting with the striking workers and spoke with their representative, Mehr news agency reported.
The authorities announced last week a series of measures to tackle mounting economic challenges, such as changing a subsidy system and raising the prices of staple goods, including cooking oil and dairy products.
Hundreds took to the streets in a number of Iranian cities to protest the government’s decision, including in Tehran province, state news agency IRNA reported.
MP Ahmed Avai confirmed Saturday that one person had been killed during the demonstrations, according to the Iran Labour News Agency (ILNA).
IRNA had reported Friday that more than 20 people were arrested during the demonstrations in the cities of Dezful and Yasuj, but made no mention of any casualties.
Iran has been reeling under the effect of sanctions reimposed by the US in 2018 — exacerbated by rising prices worldwide since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
The Islamic republic has witnessed several waves of protests over living conditions in recent years, most notably in 2019 after a fuel price hike.
In recent months, teachers have held successive demonstrations demanding the speeding up of reforms that would see their salaries better reflect their experience and performance.


Three ports in Kuwait suspend operations due to bad weather

Three ports in Kuwait suspend operations due to bad weather
Updated 16 May 2022

Three ports in Kuwait suspend operations due to bad weather

Three ports in Kuwait suspend operations due to bad weather
  • Flights at Kuwait International Airport resumed operating normally at 6 p.m. after a 1.5 hour period of inactivity
  • The final of the Amiri Cup has also been rescheduled to May 23 due to the adverse weather conditions

LONDON: All maritime operations at three Kuwaiti ports have been suspended after bad weather struck the Gulf country.

Shuwaikh port, Shuaiba port, and Doha port are temporarily supsnded, Kuwait News Agency reported.

Earlier, the news agency reported that navigation to and from Kuwait International Airport had been halted due to a dust storm reducing visibility across the country.

Flights later resumed operating normally at 6 p.m. after a 1.5 hour period of inactivity.

The final of the Amiri Cup has also been rescheduled due to the adverse weather conditions.

Kazma and Salmiya football clubs were due to play on Monday but will play on May 23 instead.


Britain’s Prince William meets with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi

Britain’s Prince William meets with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi
Updated 16 May 2022

Britain’s Prince William meets with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi

Britain’s Prince William meets with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi
  • The prince is the latest global figure to travel to the UAE capital to pay respects

ABU DHABI: Britain’s Prince William met newly-appointed UAE president Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi on Monday to offer condolences on the death of Sheikh Khalifa.

Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the former president and ruler of Abu Dhabi, died on Friday aged 73.

The Duke of Cambridge, who made the trip on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II, also offered congratulations to Sheikh Mohammed on his appointment as UAE president and ruler of Abu Dhabi.

The prince is the latest global figure to travel to the UAE capital to pay respects, following visits from other leaders including French president Emmanuel Macron and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

William’s trip to the UAE capital followed a phone call to Sheikh Mohammed on Sunday from Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, who also offered condolences on the passing of Sheikh Khalifa and good wishes to Sheikh Mohammed on his appointment.

Queen Elizabeth also sent a message to Sheikh Mohamed, sharing her sadness over Sheikh Khalifa's death, adding: “He will be long remembered by all who work for regional stability, understanding between nations and between faiths, and for the conservation cause.”


Egypt urges Libyan officials to ‘seize the opportunity’ at Cairo meetings

Egypt urges Libyan officials to ‘seize the opportunity’ at Cairo meetings
Updated 16 May 2022

Egypt urges Libyan officials to ‘seize the opportunity’ at Cairo meetings

Egypt urges Libyan officials to ‘seize the opportunity’ at Cairo meetings
  • Talks can put Libya on path to stability and security, Foreign Ministry says
  • ‘Time is running out fast and the Libyan people are more anxious than ever’: Acting UN envoy to Libya

CAIRO: The Egyptian Foreign Ministry has urged rival Libyan officials meeting in Cairo to “seize the opportunity of their presence together during this round of talks to address issues.”

The ministry said it was aware of the sensitivity and difficulty of the issues but affirmed its confidence in the capabilities and commitment of the participants to support the interests of the Libyan people.

A second round of talks began on Sunday in the presence of all members of the House of Representatives Committee, the “Higher Council of State,” and the acting UN envoy to Libya Stephanie Williams amid high hopes that a solution could be reached to end the political crisis.

The talks began with a speech by the host nation in which it expressed its support for the constitutional process on which the Libyans have pinned their hopes. The ministry said that the eyes of 7 million Libyans were on the talks and it hoped “the outcomes of these meetings rise to the ceiling of the aspirations of the Libyans in approving a constitutional framework.”

It also expressed its confidence that the efforts of the joint committee would put Libya on the path to stability, security and development, stressing that Cairo would continue to sponsor the Libyan constitutional track based on its ties and balanced relations with all parties.

The ministry confirmed that previous meetings, in Cairo in October 2020 and Hurghada in January and February 2021, and the first round of the current talks on April 13-18 had paved the way for the high-level political consultations held over the past two weeks.

It also commended the efforts of Williams, “and the work team of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya in facilitating this meeting, and supporting the task of the meeting with the ideas and tools necessary to complete it to the fullest.”

Williams said at the opening session: “Time is running out fast and the Libyan people are more anxious than ever for stability.

“As you know, the work of this committee began on April 13 and therefore we will finish its work on May 28, meaning within 45 days.

“In everything I do, my message is … After more than a decade of turmoil, the Libyan people are tired of war and endless competition over the Libyan executive and economic resources, and they want to choose their representatives so that their long-awaited dream of stability and prosperity can come true.”

She continued: “A month has passed since our last meeting, and Libya is still at the same critical juncture, for which there is no solution but to move toward comprehensive, fair, transparent and credible national elections to respect the will of the 2.8 million Libyan citizens who have registered to vote.”

The first round of consultations concluded last month without an agreement. The Supreme State is calling for the formulation of a constitutional rule that leads to elections, while Parliament demands the amendment of “controversial” texts between the two councils in the constitution in accordance with the 12th amendment it issued two months ago, provided that it is put to a referendum as a constitution, on the basis of which parliamentary and presidential elections are held.


Briton facing death penalty in Iraq over pottery smuggling pleads with court

Briton facing death penalty in Iraq over pottery smuggling pleads with court
Updated 16 May 2022

Briton facing death penalty in Iraq over pottery smuggling pleads with court

Briton facing death penalty in Iraq over pottery smuggling pleads with court
  • Jim Fitton, 66, took 12 stones and shards of broken pottery from an archaeological site in Eridu, southeastern Iraq
  • Fitton said that his background as a geologist meant that he liked to collect fragments as a hobby, but did not intend to sell them

LONDON: A retired British geologist facing an Iraqi court over allegations that he attempted to smuggle historical items has argued that he did not realize he was committing a crime.

Jim Fitton, 66, took 12 stones and shards of broken pottery from an archaeological site in Eridu, southeastern Iraq.

Fitton, who is facing the death penalty, appeared in the Baghdad court with German national Volker Waldmann.

He told the three-judge panel that he did not act with criminal intent, adding that there were no signs warning him against taking the shards of pottery.

Fitton told the judges that he “suspected” the items had ancient heritage, but that he “didn’t know about Iraqi laws” at the time, and that he was unaware that taking the shards was a criminal offense.

He was confused because “there were fences, no guards or signage.”

Fitton said that his background as a geologist meant that he liked to collect fragments as a hobby, but did not intend to sell them.

The chief judge in the Baghdad court told Fitton that the location and importance of the site meant that the items were clearly protected.

“These places, in name and by definition, are ancient sites. One doesn’t have to say it is forbidden,” Jaber Abdel Jabir said.

Fitton pleaded that some of the shards he had recovered were “no larger than my fingernail,” but the judge responded: “Size doesn’t matter.”

The 66-year-old and Waldmann were arrested as they attempted to fly out of the country at the end of a geological tour in March. Pottery shards and stones were recovered from their luggage.

Waldmann said that the two artifacts found among his belongings were given to him by Fitton.

The court will reconvene on May 22 to determine if the men hoped to profit from the shards. They are facing the death penalty, but some legal experts have said that this is an unlikely result, even if it is the statutory sentence for smuggling artifacts.

Fitton’s lawyers are expected to submit further evidence, including information from government employees who were present at the sites where the shards and stones were recovered.