UN welcomes Palestinian employment rights decision.
BEIRUT: The UN and Lebanese groups praised Wednesday Parliament's decision to grant Palestinian refugees wider rights to employment and the end of service indemnity while Israel welcomed the law as a step toward the naturalization of refugees.
"These amendments are an important step in the right direction," said Salvatore Lombardo, the Lebanon director of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).
"The positive momentum generated by [Tuesday's] outcome can only serve to strengthen UNRWA's commitment to serve the refugees in Lebanon to the best of our abilities, for the benefit of Palestinians and Lebanese alike," Lombardo said in a joint statement with the International Labor Office (ILO).
"This endorsement of the universal right to work by Lebanese legislators is an important breakthrough," ILO regional director Nada al-Nashif said in the statement.
"It reaffirms Lebanon's commitment to social justice and decent work for all."
Lebanon's Parliament on Tuesday revoked a ban that had barred the refugees from tens of professions for years, reducing them to jobs in fields such as construction and farming.
As is the case with other foreigners, Palestinians will still not be permitted to work in professions reserved for Lebanese citizens such as medicine, law or in the army and police force.
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said the Lebanese Parliament's decision was a step toward granting refugees the Lebanese nationality and their naturalization.
"This is a small step that was long awaited on the road to grant the nationality to Palestinians and their naturalization in Lebanon and elsewhere around the world as displaced should eventually obtain the nationality in the place they live in," Ayalon said.
Ayalon also voiced hope that Arab countries follow Lebanon to grant refugees complete citizenship rights.
While Lebanese officials did not comment on Ayalon's statements, the Lebanese Cabinet decided Wednesday to put into action a plan to strengthen the Palestinian refugees' right of return and increase UNRWA's contribution to meet the refugees' financial needs.
Lebanese parliamentary groups also praised the approval of the refugees' employment right, with the exception of the Phalange Party, which criticized Parliament for not setting norms to prevent naturalization.
Future Movement bloc leader MP Fouad Siniora said the ratification of the law addressed the humanitarian aspects of the refugees' everyday life and proved that the Lebanese were capable of reaching consensus through dialogue over an issue that was subject to internal divisions.
"It is true that nothing would compensate our Palestinian brothers for their land and home but it is true that a healthy and new relation with our Palestinian brothers C* would also strengthen the Lebanese and Palestinian commitment to reject naturalization," Siniora said.
While the Future Movement's Christian ally -- the Lebanese Forces -- praised Parliament's decision, the movement's other Christian ally, the Phalange Party's leader Amin Gemayel criticized Parliament for passing the law "without setting norms that prevent naturalization."
"It is not fair to give rights to a non-Lebanese when the rights of Lebanese who own land alongside camps are confiscated," Gemayel said while stressing that "what happened yesterday was contrary to what we agreed during previous meetings with former Premier Siniora."
Echoing Siniora, Lebanese Forces official Antoine Zahra said Wednesday's parliamentary session was the outcome of a political agreement but added that his party opposed granting refugees the right to property ownership, a demand that was sought by Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt.
UNRWA estimates Lebanon houses 400,000 Palestinians, but Lebanese officials estimate no more than 300,000 refugees actually reside in the country as the agency does not strike off its lists those who emigrate.
Most of them are descendants of Palestinians who were driven out of their homes or forced into exile after the creation of Israel, 62 years ago.
The majority of refugees reside in Lebanon's 12 camps and continue to live off UN handouts. They remain deprived of health care, the right to own property and the right to citizenship, among other rights. -- The Daily Star , with agencies
Copyright 2009, The Daily Star. All rights reserved.
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|Publication:||The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)|
|Date:||Aug 19, 2010|
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