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Lebanon: General strike sweeps Palestinian camps for 5th day

Fatah movement members clash with some Palestinian Islamic groups at Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp in Lebanon's southern port city of Sidon on February 28, 2017 [Mahmoud Al Zain / Anadolu Agency]
Fatah movement members clash with some Palestinian Islamic groups at Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp in Lebanon's southern port city of Sidon on February 28, 2017 [Mahmoud Al Zain / Anadolu Agency]

For the fifth day in a row, a general strike has swept Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon in protest against the decision of the Lebanese Ministry of Labour to treat Palestinian workers as foreigners.

On Friday, hundreds of young people blocked the entrances to Ain Al-Hilweh camp – east of the southern Lebanese city of Sidon – using tyres. This comes after camp markets have been witnessing strikes and the closure of shops for the past week.

Sidon’s Martyrs Square hosted a mass sit-in at the invitation of a number of groups – including Al-Jama’a Al-Islamiyya, Hamas, Islamic Forces, the Association of Muslim Scholars in Lebanon and the Palestinian Scholars Association – under the slogan “Friday of Palestine in Saida”.

The Palestinian Monitoring Committee in Lebanon yesterday called for “a day of rage”, encouraging Palestinian refugees in all camps to continue their peaceful, civil movements.

“Movements will be ongoing until a clear and unequivocal position is taken by the Labour Minister to withdraw his decision,” the committee said in a statement that reached Quds Press.

Photo Essay: Life as a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon

Thousands of Palestinian refugees demonstrated on Thursday evening in protest against the decision by Lebanese Minister of Labour, Camille Abou Sleiman, to treat Palestinian workers as foreigners.

After Abou Sleiman’s insistence on his decision – despite the alternative proposal put forward by Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri – thousands of Palestinian refugees from Ain Al-Hilweh held the largest demonstration in years.

The protests were attended by about 10,000 demonstrators who shouted against Abou Sleiman’s decision and expressed their rejection of the discriminatory policies they have been suffering under in Lebanon.

A large march also took place in Nahr Al-Bared refugee camp in northern Lebanon, as well as in Burj El-Barajneh camp in the south of the capital Beirut, which witnessed a massive march through the alleys of the camp.

Meanwhile Rashidieh refugee camp, near the southern city of Tyre, witnessed a massive march and sit-in at the invitation of the Palestinian factions.

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“The phenomenon of illegal workers in Lebanon is an unusual situation, and we have set up a plan in the Ministry of Labour to combat and control it through organising the labour market and pushing forward the granting of work permits for illegal workers,” Abou Sleiman said in a TV interview on Thursday evening.

“The Palestinians have many rights in Lebanon, and it would be better to work on implementing these rights,” he explained.

He stressed that “the plan is not targeted against Palestinians, but rather is aimed at protecting them and ensuring their rights”.

Head of the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee Hassan Mneimneh, who participated in the TV interview, commented on Abou Sleiman’s statements saying: “It is high time that the Lebanese looked at the Palestinians from another perspective.”

“Over the past 30 years, the Palestinian people have demonstrated that they do not wish to be involved in Lebanese conflicts and have stayed away from them,” Mneimneh stressed. “[Abou Sleiman] “has made a mistake in the implementation of the decision, perhaps because of his lack of knowledge about the file,” he added.

“There must be practical decrees before the implementation of the decision and its imposition on the people,” Mneimneh concluded.

Read: Palestine refugees protest against discrimination in Lebanon

On 6 June 2018, the Lebanese Ministry of Labour launched a plan to combat illegal workers in the country as a way to reduce the high rate of local unemployment.

Among the measures approved by the plan were the closure of firms owned or rented by foreign nationals who have no work permits, compelling foreign-owned firms to ensure 75 per cent of their employees are Lebanese.

The Lebanese Ministry of Labour had given a one-month deadline to institutions employing “illegal” foreign workers to settle their legal status. Immediately after the deadline, the ministry held an inspection campaign that resulted in the closure of 34 firms, some of which hired Palestinian refugee workers.

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