By Aseel Baidoun
LAU Tribune staff
One year after graduating from LAU as a mechanical engineer, the only job offer Tareq Kasim received was that of a truck driver.
A Palestinian refugee who graduated in spring 2011, Tarek Kasim, is still unemployed even though he applied for positions at dozens of engineering companies around Lebanon.
At one of these companies, the human resources manager said; “we have a vacancy for a truck driver if you’re interested.”
“After I heard this, I knew that being an engineer or illiterate will make no difference as long as I am a Palestinian,” Kasim said.
According to the Palestinian Human Right Organization (PHRO), Palestinians in Lebanon face discrimination compared to other non-citizens with respect to the right to work and the right to social security.
Article 53 of the Lebanese Constitution states that foreign workers should benefit from all the rights enjoyed by their Lebanese counterparts if the former’s country of origin provides comparable treatment for Lebanese workers.
The reciprocity law suggests that citizens of countries that do not endorse the principle of equality with Lebanese citizens will not be able to get their social security rights in Lebanon, which includes working permits.
The law however cannot apply to Palestinian workers since they practically have no country.
During the early 1950s, the Ministry of Social Affairs issued a policy preventing Palestinian refugees from entering the Lebanese labor market without getting a work permit.
“It is ironic how we are being punished in Lebanon because we have no state, instead of being supported,” Ahmad Halemeh , co-founder of The Popular Aid for Relief and Development (PARD), said.
Halemeh explained that professions requiring a work permit from the Lebanese Ministry of Labor include more than 70 percent of all jobs –from carpenter to businessman. Jobs that don’t require permits are mostly in construction and agriculture.
Kasim was in love and waiting to find his dream job before getting engaged. “We’ve been together for almost three years, and we were waiting for my graduation then employment to get engaged,” he said. “But she was forced to leave me after her parents convinced her that I will have no future.”
The story is not an exception to the rule. Many Palestinian refugees in Lebanon face the same verdict.
Ahmed Shihade is an LAU finance graduate. He has been unemployed for almost two years now. “I gave up looking for a job in the finance field. I am now searching for anything at any place,” a frustrated Shihade said.
The PHRO explains in its reports that Lebanese laws (resolution 621/1, decree 6812 of 1995, and decree 17561 of 1964) restrict Palestinians from working in over 70 professions in Lebanon. It shows that only about 1 percent of the Palestinian refugees manage to secure work permits.
Such conditions force the majority of Palestinians in Lebanon to work illegally or in fields that require no academic certificates.
“I did not continue my education after high school because I knew I might have no career in the future,” S.M., a Palestinian refugee who spoke on condition of anonymity, said. “Instead, I chose to work in the distribution of weed and hash from the Bekaa to Beirut. At least I will get paid for that.”
According to UNRWA, more than 60 percent of Palestinians in Lebanon live under the poverty line. The rate of unemployment within the community amounts to about 65 percent.