Analysis: Lebanon wins undocumented – but little work

Workers have lunch at a construction site in Sidon, southern Lebanon, before May Day
Workers eat lunch at a construction site in Sidon, southern Lebanon, before May, April 30, 2012. REUTERS / Ali Hashisho / Files

December 16, 2021

By Maya Gebeily

BEIRUT (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Lebanon has eased restrictions on thousands of undocumented workers for the first time – but advocates say the long-awaited move fails to protect a struggling community. Struggling to survive even outside of life.

Last week, Lebanese Labor Minister Mustafa Bayram issued a decision allowing Palestinian refugees, stateless Lebanese and children born to Lebanese mothers and foreign fathers, to work in the country. some fields were previously reserved for Lebanese ID holders.

While similar “exemption” memos have been issued in the past, they only refer to Palestinians, a population of about 170,000 in Lebanon and mostly living in cramped camps.

Bayram’s decision offers exemptions for Lebanese who lack identification – often because they were born out of wedlock or have never registered their births with the state government – and children born from foreign fathers and Lebanese mothers, are still prohibited from passing on citizenship to their children.

By definition, it is difficult to tally undocumented Lebanon. The advocacy group Frontiers Rights has built a database of about 2,400 names, but there could be thousands more.

The relaxation of rules governing their employability marks a long overdue step towards greater equality and self-sufficiency, although advocates say it is still a tiny first step, especially given the monstrous scale of Lebanon’s economic collapse.

Since the economic crisis began in 2019, tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs and three-quarters of the population has been pushed into poverty.

“This is the first time such a decision has been made against stateless people in Lebanon – but the right to work is a fundamental right and it should be for them,” said Karim Nammour, a researcher at the advocacy group. Lebanese Law Action said.

Nammour told the Thomson Reuters Foundation: “Lebanon is going through one of the greatest crises in our history – we need something much more serious than this.


Lebanon is not a party to the 1954 or 1961 UN conventions on the rights of stateless persons, nor has it ever enacted its own law in this area.

Since their place of birth is never registered, stateless Lebanese lack identification – a omission that has lifelong effects, limiting everything from school to work to banking. .

While undocumented children can attend public schools, ‘undocumented children’ need special permission from the department of education to sit for state exams and graduate.

Half of the undocumented Lebanese in the Border Rights database have no formal education.

“Many people say they don’t mind studying because they can’t get a job – so what is the motivation to get an education?” Frontiers Rights member Berna Habib said.

Stateless Lebanese have no staff number at the finance ministry and cannot produce a clean criminal record, which is required by most employers.

They cannot open bank accounts and do not have access to the National Social Security Fund, to which Palestinians in Lebanon are partially granted access.

That pushes them into the margins of the workforce, Habib said, with access mostly to low-wage, informal work without contracts or social safety nets.

There is a path to paperwork, but it involves a maze of bureaucracy and tests that can be very expensive.

“Poor people mean they are stateless. It’s a vicious cycle, and it needs to be broken,” Habib said.


Bayram admits his decision may not be enough to do so.

In an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, he said undocumented people still have to apply for a work permit.

“Everything else will need a new law. I did what I could within my privileges as minister. Their right to work is a fundamental right – I made this decision for humanitarian reasons,” he said.

Asked if he would issue more decrees on labor access for stateless Lebanese by 2022, Bayram said Lebanon’s turbulent economic and political situation makes such ambitions difficult. can happen.

“We need a comprehensive labor policy, but what we can do now are partial efforts,” he said.

Tariq Haq, senior employment policy specialist at the International Labor Organization’s Arab regional office, said the move effectively provides legal shielding for employers who are just looking to hire an undocumented person in certain areas.

As a ministerial memorandum, it carries less weight than legislation passed by parliament and can be amended or repealed by another memo at any time.

“There is a fragility here. It is necessary but not sufficient,” Haq said.

Many of the areas covered in the decision, including highly qualified medicine and engineering, are governed by the law, meaning all jobs are barricaded for people with Lebanese IDs.

Bayram’s memo won’t change the ingrained bias.

“But what it does do is draw attention to the issue and highlight the need for further legal and institutional reforms to address these barriers,” Haq said.

That means expanding access to education and training, and establishing a clear, inclusive policy on employment.

“We want to see a situation where there is an opportunity for all people living in the territory to earn a decent life, where working conditions are fair and equal, and paid at the same time,” Haq said. equal wages and values ​​for workers.

(Reported by Maya Gebeily @gebeilym. Edited by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which has supported the lives of people around the world who struggle to live in freedom. or fair. Go to http:// news Analysis: Lebanon wins undocumented – but little work


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