Syrian Refugees’ Livelihoods in Lebanon: Constraining Legislations and Increased Informality

July 28, 2016

On the 28th of July, Lebanon Support hosted a roundtable discussion on Syrian refugees’ livelihoods in Lebanon. The event was the second roundtable discussion of a series, within our thematic project about the social effects of political & legal measures targeting Syrians in Lebanon. Georges Ghali (Alef) was our discussant during this Roundtable. The discussion addressed the Lebanese government’s policy regarding the access of Syrian refugees to the Lebanese labour market, and the consequences of this policy on their daily lives.

In the vein of its response to the Syrian refugee crisis since 2011, the Lebanese government has adopted a set of policies in October 2014 to limit and control Syrian presence in the country, as well as to protect Lebanese employment. However, research findings show that  these policies have contributed to an increase of informality, illegality, and exploitation dynamics affecting mainly Syrian refugees working in Lebanon.

Discussant Georges Ghali argued that, although the Lebanese government should see itself as a duty bearer and not a partner in handling the massive Syrian influx, the burden is very big and needs some form of assistance and pressure by the international community. The current policy on Syrian’s access to the labour market is not enforced, due to the Ministry of labour’s limited resources and capacities. Although employers – who don’t pay taxes nor social security for their Syrian employees – benefit from paying lower wages, Syrians and Lebanese suffer from this situation, respectively because of exploitation and job competition. 

Georges Ghali advocated for a labour policy aimed at job creation and labour protection, in order to prevent negative coping. As a solution, he proposed to regularize foreign work systematically, rather than adopting ad hoc solutions, such as the STEP programme. He pointed out that there is  an already high number of foreign workers in Lebanon, and added that from a human rights perspective, there is no link between livelihoods and the extended stay of refugees. 
As a conclusion, he called for a human rights based approach to manage employment and livelihood for foreign workers and refugees in a comprehensive way. He furthermore stressed  the need for job creation for Lebanese and Syrians, and a need to reform the kafala system. He also advised the Lebanese government to lobby more on resettlement within the international arena.

The discussion that followed revolved around the recent legislations enacted by the Lebanese government, and their increased impact on both Lebanese and Syrians.