Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Lebanese authorities are considering a number of measures to regulate the employment of Syrian refugees in Lebanon on Thursday, in an attempt to address the strain caused by more than 1 million Syrians currently in Lebanon on the country’s economy.
Announcing the measures, economy minister Alain Hakim warned of an “economic and social catastrophe” that the presence of so many refugees in a country of just over 4 million people could cause. In May he said Lebanon’s unemployment rate had reached 20 percent, and that this was largely because of cheap Syrian labor.
On Wednesday, Hakim told Asharq Al-Awsat the proposed measures aimed to regulate the employment of Syrian refugees in all sectors in the Lebanese labor market by applying a quota system “to determine the number of Syrian workers allowed to be employed according to the needs of each sector.”
He said he would be presenting the proposals to the Council of Ministers on Thursday, and that he hoped they would be approved and put into effect within a matter of weeks.
The proposals call for the establishment of a legal framework for the employment of Syrian refugee workers in Lebanon, while also supporting those who fail to satisfy legal employment conditions. They also aim to reduce the hiring of low-paid workers and to effect strict measures and fines, to be overseen by the Finance Ministry, on those companies violating the country’s employment law.
This comes as tensions rise in Lebanon over the influx of refugees fleeing the conflict currently raging in neighboring Syria.
Prime Minister Tammam Salam said last month that Lebanon was struggling to deal with the strain on its economy caused by the influx of Syrian refugees. The latest figures by the UNHCR estimate that there are currently some 1.08 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, with projections suggesting that number could top 1.5 million by the end of the year.
The participation of Syrians in the Lebanese labor market has become an increasingly fraught issue as their numbers have increased. On Wednesday, labor minister Sejaan Qazzi told Bloomberg that Syrians coming into Lebanon were doing so to take advantage of the humanitarian aid and jobs available in the country, and should not be considered refugees. He claimed that 47 percent of what he estimated were 1.6 million Syrian refugees in the country were actually workers coming into the country to compete directly with their Lebanese counterparts.
But Hakim believed Lebanon could benefit from Syrian refugees, who could help address labor shortages. He said the country’s agricultural sector, for example, was currently suffering from a lack of workers, while at the same time Lebanon had a surplus in a number of fields such as medicine and engineering, “to the point that Lebanese graduates [from these fields] are unable to find jobs in either of these sectors.”