UNRWA roundtable meeting sheds light on the Palestinian labour force in Lebanon

05 June 2012

5 June 2012
Beirut, Lebanon

Last week, UNRWA held a roundtable meeting for both media and NGOs working in refugee camps in Lebanon to shed light on the situation faced by the Palestinian labour force there. It was part of UNRWA’s ‘Dignity for All’ campaign funded by the European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Office (ECHO).

The meeting included testimonials from Palestinian women who found work through UNRWA’s employment service centers, and employers who successfully used the centers to find valuable employees.

Searching for work

Maha, who works as secretary for a company that imports surveillance cameras in Tyre, a coastal city in southern Lebanon, was one of several Palestinian employees who told her story at the event. “After I graduated in business and office management, I searched for work for a long time but couldn’t find any. The basic obstacle was the fact that I am Palestinian; my case was the same as that of many who graduated with me”.

After graduation, Maha learned that UNRWA operates employment service offices in throughout Lebanon. As she told the roundtable participants about the experience of going to the Tyre office to submit her CV, she recalled her surprise when one of the guidance officers immediately helped her to re-write it. He then showed her several current jobs listings and helped her select the most interesting and suitable options to apply to. Before the job interviews, Maha also received training from the center on how to present herself in an interview and maintain professional relationships with colleagues.

“I have been working for a month now, and to this day, I continue to receive follow-up correspondence from the employment center. This project gave me new hope, both for my future and for the future of many Palestinians like me. It is the link connecting Palestinians searching for work—no matter what their level of education—and employers, and this is exactly what we need today”.

Facing tough obstacles

The story of Nivine Khalil is not very different. She heard of the center through an association in the camp, and she applied for work. Nivene is a physiotherapist afflicted with infantile paralysis, but this does not prevent her from working. “My disability was never an obstacle to practicing my work; it’s the law that’s the basic obstacle. Because I’m a Palestinian, I can’t open a private clinic”.

Working together

After her visit to the center, Nivine found work in one of the health spas in Tyre, owned by Mr Ali Hunaidi, who is Lebanese. On Nivine’s work, Mr Hunaidi said: “Nivine is one of five Palestinians who work for me. I heard from some friends that they employed Palestinians, so I was encouraged.” Ali believes that because Palestinians in Lebanon have such limited access to the job market, they are very dedicated employees. “Today, I don’t regret it,” he added, “especially since they are so highly qualified”.

UNRWA in Lebanon

Around 455,000 refugees are registered with UNRWA in Lebanon, with many living in the country’s 12 refugee camps. Palestine refugees make up an estimated ten per cent of Lebanon, a small country which is now densely populated.

Palestine refugees in Lebanon do not enjoy several basic human rights. As they are not formally citizens of another state, they are not able to claim the same rights as other foreigners living and working in Lebanon, including the right to work in as many as 20 professions.

UNRWA’s “Dignity for All” project, funded by the European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection office (ECHO), aims to change mutual perceptions between the Lebanese and Palestine refugee communities in Lebanon.

The project has one key message: Palestinians are refugees in Lebanon, but they deserve to live in dignity until a just solution to their plight is found.

More about UNRWA in Lebanon
More about employment in Lebanon
More information from the Committee for Employment of Palestinian Refugees in Lebanon