In theory, Syrians cannot work in three sectors in Lebanon: construction, agriculture and maintenance. But with the arrival since 2011 of close to two million refugees, these restrictions have shattered. Today, Syrian refugees are working in all kinds of sectors in Lebanon, causing discontent and dissatisfaction amongst Lebanese nationals.
Should Syrian refugees be allowed to work? In Lebanon, the question is now being debated publicly. There are close to two million Syrians in this country, refugees who have gradually replaced the Lebanese in some jobs, despite the lack of mandatory authorizations to work. Syrians are now working as waiters, taxi drivers or in local shops. There is a feeling in the country that the Syrian refugees are illegally taking Lebanese jobs.
For the Minister of Labour, the situation is no longer tolerable, he launched last month a plan to fight against illegal work and at the same time, the anti-Syrian sentiment is growing in the country.
In fact, Lebanese are now mentioning the economic competition in regards to refugees. Fadia, who worked as a tour guide for a travel agency, is one of the many nationals who complain about the “illegal” economic competition.
“I lost my job. For my salary, my boss could hire two Syrians. That’s what he did.” The same applies for construction, agriculture and other sectors. The Syrian workforce is very abundant and is much less demanding in terms of salary. On the big roundabout in Jounieh, north of Beirut, about 50 Syrians are waiting to be hired every day for any kind of work, often at the expense of the Lebanese workforce.
Problems beyond employment
With nearly 1.5 million Syrian refugees (in addition to the already present 400 000 Palestinians) who have settled in Lebanon since 2012, the country is facing significant problems in a context of political instability. “For Lebanon, it’s a time bomb,” said Albert Abi Azar, president of the NGO Alpha created during the civil war (1975-1990).
“The situation is very serious because we are in the process of deconstruction of state administrations. We are also in the process of social change because of the presence of so many refugees.” Some Syrians settled in Lebanon since the beginning of the war in 2012 and their return to their country (still at war) is uncertain.
Youssef Fawaz, Vice President of Tebnine municipality in southern Lebanon, also highlighted the problems of the massive influx of Syrian refugees. “For example, our garbage collection budget has tripled. Our budget is limited and the money we spend on hosting refugees is cutting our investment budget.”
However, neither he nor Albert Abi Azar question the reception of the Syrians but do ask questions. “It is normal that we help them. But it will be necessary one day that these refugees return in their country. The question now is when?.”
“The legislation has to allow refugees to work in more sectors”
Necessary ? This is not what Roger Albinyana, Director of Mediterranean Regional Policies and Human Development at IEMed think. Interviewed by Ecomnews Med, the specialist give us a completely other angle in the following video.