BY KHALED ABU TOAMEH
Palestinians denounced a campaign by Lebanon’s Labor Ministry cracking down on illegal foreign workers in the country.
Residents of al-Rashidiya refugee camp near Tyre in southern Lebanon burned tires and blocked the entrances to the camp on Monday to protest the crackdown on illegal foreign workers. The protesters announced they will not allow Lebanese goods to enter al-Rashidiya, one of 12 UNRWA-run camps in the country.
The campaign is part of a plan to crackdown on illegal foreign workers in Lebanon. Several businesses that hired illegal workers were closed down and more than 150 people were detained, the Lebanese ministry said in a statement.
“Lebanon is suffering from a sharp crisis because of illegal foreign workers, especially illegal Syrian labor,” the statement said. Lebanese authorities estimate that 1.5 million Syrians have fled to Lebanon since the beginning of the civil war in Syria in 2011.
“The number of refugees in Lebanon is close to one-third of the Lebanese population, and hundreds of thousands of the refugees are competing with Lebanese citizens in various fields,” the ministry said. “Their work is no longer limited to agriculture and construction. They have moved their companies and enterprises to Lebanon, and have opened thousands of illegal businesses. This is an equation that no country in the world can tolerate.”
The campaign, however, has also targeted thousands of Palestinians involved with the illegal businesses.
On Monday, Azzam al-Ahmed, a senior Palestinian official in Ramallah in charge of the Palestinian portfolio in Lebanon, contacted several Lebanese officials and expressed his concern over the crackdown.
Ahmed complained that many Palestinians have lost their jobs as a result of the campaign.
The measures taken by the Lebanese authorities, he said, endanger efforts by the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee to regulate the status and rights of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. According to UNRWA, there were 450,000 Palestinians in Lebanon in 2014.
“These measures also contradict international laws and conventions regarding refugees’ rights,” the Palestinian official added. “The measures don’t serve the joint goal of facing US-backed Israeli policy of resettlement and displacement” of Palestinian refugees.
Several Palestinian factions in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Lebanon condemned the campaign against illegal workers, saying it contradicted Lebanon’s official support for the rights of the Palestinians.
The factions warned that the crackdown would deny thousands of Palestinians in Lebanon their livelihood and aggravate their suffering. According to the factions, the Lebanese measures will also undermine efforts to foil US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan. The Palestinians claim that the “Deal of the Century” includes resettling Palestinian refugees in Arab countries.
PA Ambassador to Lebanon Ashraf Dabour expressed concern over the campaign against illegal workers, and urged the Lebanese authorities to exclude Palestinians from the crackdown.
Some Palestinian businessmen and workers were quoted in Lebanese media as saying that they prefer to die than lose their sole source of income.
“I’m not going to close my business, and I will fight back,” said one businessman. Others threatened to set themselves on fire if the campaign continued, saying they will not succumb to “humiliation.”
Hamas also came out against the Lebanese campaign, dubbing it a “policy of slow death” for Palestinians in Lebanon. Calling for an immediate end to the campaign, Hamas said it does not serve Lebanese-Palestinian relations and dialogue.
The more than 450,000 Palestinians living in Lebanon are denied Lebanese citizenship, and are legally barred from owning property or working in dozens of professions.