This blog entry is written by Diakonia’s partner organization Najdeh from Lebanon. Since 1978, Najdeh has worked to for increased rights and income for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Najdeh’s vision is a Palestinian community enjoying national and human rights, social justice and equality between women and men.
Over 400,000 Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon, deprived of certain basic rights. Violating human rights, Lebanon has barred Palestinian refugees from 73 job categories including professions such as medicine, law and engineering. They are not allowed to own property, and even need a special permit to leave their refugee camps. These, and a number of other restrictions, has been mounting since 1990. However, in June 2005, the government of Lebanon removed some work restrictions for a few Lebanese-born Palestinians, enabling them to apply for work permits and work in the private sector. Still, there is no clear and specific definition for Palestinian refugees in the Lebanese law.
Palestinian refugees had lived a suffering experience resulting from the violation of the right to work; it is not uncommon to among them see a graduate from the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering working on a cart selling vegetables, trying to make a living. This is the reality of many Palestinians in Lebanon, facing discriminatory as well as arbitrary laws and procedures.
With this background, Najdeh started a right to work campaign as an advocacy measure for Palestinian refugees. The campaign was announced in April 2005 by a Lebanese-Palestinian Coalition of 45 associations working on the Lebanese and Palestinian rights. Later, the coalition was expanded to enclose 80 networks, organizations, associations, community-based initiatives, activists, and representatives of trade unions.
Five years after the launch of the campaign, Najdeh and the other organizations have been conducting studies, sit-ins and dialogue with all political parties that have promoted the campaign’s cause. As a result, the Lebanese parliament have for the first time discussed a draft law on the rights of refugees to work. Through a proposal from several political parties, the Lebanese Parliament amended the labor law.
This action revoked two major obstacles to Palestinians in Lebanon accessing employment, namely the work permit fee and the reciprocity condition (Palestinians here can’t be treated like Lebanese working in Palestine, because there is no Palestinian state). But the positive echo of this amendment has so far been limited, and much more is necessary to strengthen the new legislation.
In the coming period, Najdeh and the other organizations running the campaign will work on the right of the Palestinians to benefit from social security, exercise free professions and enroll in unions. The campaign will also establish youth committees in various Lebanese regions and mobilize public – Lebanese, regional and global – opinion to increase support and assistance in the process of change.
The right to work campaign is the cause of all refugees, and we from Najdeh will continue to act until it is crowned by a law that ensure the full right of Palestinian refugee to work in Lebanon, since the quest for human rights knows no time and no limits.