Lebanon eases work restrictions on Palestinian refugees

Date: 06-27-05

BEIRUT (AFP) - Lebanon eased work restrictions on hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees, in a move advocacy groups hailed as "a very important first step" towards improving the community's lot.

Labour Minister Trad Hamadeh exempted Lebanese-born Palestinians who are registered refugees from a more than two-decade-old ban on non-Lebanese practising some 50 trades in the private sector, the official ANI news agency said.

But a ban on Palestinians seeking professional employment remains in force.

The relaxation comes two months after Syria ended a three-decade troop deployment in Lebanon, prompting the exodus of hundreds of thousands of migrant labourers who have so far largely been replaced by Africans and Asians.

Lebanon's main trade union confederation hailed what it described as a "first step towards granting the Palestinians their civil and social rights." But it added that the move should be no substitute to the "implementation of Security Council Resolution 194 (of 1948) regarding the right of return of Palestinians to their homes in Palestine."

Lebanon has always insisted that the refugees must go home, fearing the impact of permanent resettlement on its fragile sectarian balance.

But Israel has repeatedly ruled out any prospect of a return to lands that now make up the Jewish state.

The head of a Beirut-based Palestinian rights group welcomed "a very important first step" by the Lebanese authorities.

"It should be completed by allowing Palestinian graduates to work as lawyers or doctors or in other liberal professions," said Human Rights Protection Centre director Suheil Natur.

"The amendment passed in 2001 barring Palestinians from owning property should also be rescinded," he added.

The 50 or so private sector jobs previously closed to Palestinians included the whole range from concierge to bank clerk. The ban was imposed in 1983 by the then Israeli-backed government of president Amin Gemayel.

Around 400,000 Palestinian refugees are registered in Lebanon, according to the United Nations, but analysts say as many as a third have emigrated to seek work abroad, particularly in Scandinavia and North America.

The vast majority of those who remain live in often squalid conditions in 12 refugee camps dotted round the country.



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