SIDON/BEIRUT: Palestinian protesters continued burning tires and blocking roads at the Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp Tuesday in an attempt to keep pressure on Lebanese authorities to stop a labor crackdown.
Monday marked the second week of protests by Palestinian refugees against the Labor Ministry's crackdown on undocumented foreign workers, which Palestinians say unfairly targets them.
On Monday evening, a delegation from the Joint Palestinian Labor Authority had called for protests to continue, but said roads leading to and from the camps should remain open and demonstrators should refrain from burning tires.
Protesters in Ain al-Hilweh, however, failed to heed this instruction and were seen burning tires and blocking entrances to the camp with iron barriers. As a concession, however, they allowed pedestrians, sick people and emergency services to enter the camp.
The protests have prevented fresh foodstuffs from entering the camp, as residents continue to live off canned goods.
One protester, Abu Musa, told The Daily Star that “we won’t reopen the road until the [Labor Ministry’s] decision is canceled.”
“We don’t like burning tires ... but we want to feel like humans and be granted our civil rights,” he added.
Protest actions in other Palestinian refugee camps in south Lebanon seemed to have calmed down Tuesday, with demonstrators refraining from blocking entrances and burning tires.
Earlier this month, a one-month deadline from the Labor Minister for all businesses employing foreign workers to obtain the necessary papers came to an end. Since then, ministry inspectors have been more strictly enforcing a law requiring non-Lebanese laborers, including Palestinians, to hold a work permit.
Labor Minster Camille Abousleiman said Tuesday following a meeting with a delegation from the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions that out of a total of 750 violations recorded by inspectors, only two had involved Palestinians.
This number is disputed by Palestinians. Tarek Akkawi, the head of Lebanese-Palestinian Business Forum, told The Daily Star that two businesses in the Koura area had been temporarily closed by inspectors for employing Palestinians without work permits, but that many more had received violation notices.
Palestinian refugees and officials have stressed that while Palestinians living in Lebanon are considered foreigners, they have a special status as many of them have been here for generations and cannot return to their homeland.
Last week, Abousleiman attempted to appease protesters by making it easier for Palestinians to obtain a work permit, for example by exempting them from obligatory enrollment in the National Social Security Fund.
Following his meeting Tuesday, Abousleiman said that the Palestinian delegation was requesting Palestinians’ full exemption from work permits, which he said “would require an amendment to the labor law.”
He ruled out the possibility of such an amendment, saying the law was "valid and cannot be suspended."
Despite the ongoing protests by Palestinians saying that the recent ministry action was unfairly targeting them, the minister has insisted that he is doing no more than simply implementing the labor law.
"For maybe 50 or 60 years the law hasn't been implemented ... now the process of doing so has begun," Abousleiman said.
The minister recognized "some people's concerns," adding that he was "ready to do anything, within the scope of the law, that will make this easier."
During a visit to Sidon Municipality Tuesday, Future Movement Secretary-General Ahmad Hariri said that the issue was being addressed “at the highest levels” and should be handled calmly as “the efforts of Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri will reach a compromise.”
On Monday, the premier had met with the representative of the United Nations refugee agency in Lebanon, Mireille Girard, as well as former MP Imad Hout to discuss the issue. Also Monday, Hamas Movement leader Ismail Haniyeh called on Berri to support Palestinian refugees and enable them to “live in dignity.”