Tag Archives: Daily Star

Palestinians pump up Lebanese economy – study

13 Feb

Despite employment obstacles, refugee community doesn’t burden state’s social safety net
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Tuesday, February 03, 2009

BEIRUT: Despite facing severe work restrictions, most Palestinian refugee households have at least one family member who is employed, constitute 10 per cent of all private consumption in Lebanon, and do not burden the Lebanese welfare system, a recent report has found.

The Najdeh (Welfare) Association, a Palestinian nongovernmental organization (NGO), published the report examining the contributions of Palestinian refugees to the Lebanese economy in January with funding from aid agencies Diakonia and Christian Aid, as part of its “right to work” campaign.

The study is the result of a survey of 1,500 households in eight refugee camps across Lebanon and a number of focus group discussions, and assesses the income of Palestinian refugees, challenges to and perceptions of work, and their contribution to the Lebanese economy. According to Najdeh, the study “constitutes a paradigm shift in research on Palestinian refugees in Lebanon from examining employability to examining the contribution to the economy of the host country Lebanon.”

Under Lebanese law, Palestinian refugees are barred from all but the most menial occupations. Nonetheless, the report found one third of the individuals sampled worked, 91.1 of households had a member who worked, and roughly 40 per cent were searching for work. Only 1.7 per cent of those surveyed had work permits, a fact the report said “renders the Palestinian refugee labor force invisible in official statistics” and exacerbates their socioeconomic marginalization.

Najdeh also found there was “disequilibrium in the contribution to the workforce among men and women typical to the region: women constitute only 20 per cent of those who work between ages 15 to 64 years.” No change to this disequilibrium had occurred since a similar report was published a decade ago, the report said.

Some 31.1 per cent of men of working age (defined as 15-64 years old) were not currently in employment, compared to 83.2 per cent of women in the same age group. More women were found to work between the ages of 40-44 and 55-65, the report found, because “women go to work after their children grow up” in line with their traditional gender role as homemakers, or because elder women “have already been involved in the workforce since their youth.”

Most men, meanwhile, worked when they were younger, between the ages of 25 and 29, and 35-39, in keeping with their time-honored gender role as breadwinner. However, significantly more men of working age were illiterate compared to their women counterparts. “This phenomenon may be considered a crude indicator of school dropouts,” Najdeh said.

Most Palestinian men and women worked in the private service sector, with men working predominantly in construction, industry, transport and agriculture. More women, meanwhile, were employed in the NGO sector or by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Because of “limited work opportunities for Palestinian refugees outside” their camps, most of the men and women surveyed were found to work within or on the peripheries of the camps.

Perhaps surprisingly, the report found that a greater proportion (67 per cent) of employed women worked full-time, compared to 62 per cent of men, who more often engaged “in seasonal, occasional and other work patterns.” Furthermore, more employed women (48.6 per cent) were employed by an establishment, whereas 49.6 per cent of men worked for an “individual employer.” Men were also more likely to stop working due to health problems.

Most men (59.6 per cent) and women (55.1 per cent) said they were “somewhat satisfied” with their current work environment, but “twice the proportion of women express being ‘very satisfied’ with health and safety conditions at work” compared to men (21.7 and 10.8 per cent respectively). This may be because more men engage in occupations with greater safety hazards, stated the report.

The majority of both men and women expressed dissatisfaction with their low income levels, the report added. Median monthly wages were $260-266 for men and $188-200 for women. An overwhelming majority (84 per cent) of Palestinian households furthermore believed there were no work prospects for their children in Lebanon, a perspective perhaps compounded by the fact the median monthly household income of Palestinian refugees had declined from $260-266.7 in 2007 to $108-112 “during the first half of 2008.” In addition, 54.9 per cent of households said they were supported financially by remittances from emigrant family members.

Individuals living with chronic illness constituted 16 per cent of the sample population in the report, 6.5 per cent of whom attributed their illness to occupation; 4.3 per cent of those with disabilities likewise attributed their disability to occupation. The report emphasized the difficulties these individuals faced, as because they are not legally supposed to work, they cannot claim insurance from UNRWA for occupational injuries. Consequently, “patients suffering from occupational injuries and their aftermath are vulnerable to financial as well as health-related catastrophes.”

Although Palestinian refugees cannot legally contribute much to the Lebanese economy through employment, the sheer amount of them living in the country (more than 400,000) means they count for 10 per cent ($352 million) of all private consumption in Lebanon. Food, healthcare and rent constitute their top spending priorities.

The report also found that despite a 60-year presence in Lebanon and extreme vulnerability as a group, Palestinian refugees “do not appear to have constituted a burden on the safety net system provided by the Lebanese welfare system.” The report stated UNRWA, NGOs and faith-based organizations represented the primary safety net for the Palestinian refugee community.

Palestinians also contributed to “invigorating” the areas surrounding their camps by creating low-cost markets for low-income and other marginalized communities in Lebanon. The “Sabra, Ein el-Hilweh and Nahr al-Bared camp markets are recognized as major informal economic hubs for the poor,” said the report, adding that the destruction of Nahr al-Bared during the battles of 2007 had “resulted in a gap in the Akkar” region in northern Lebanon for such communities.

Concluding the report, Najdeh spoke of the importance of granting Palestinian refugees the right to work and called for “implementing a formal economic strategic partnership between the Lebanese economic community and the Palestinian refugee economic community.” Najdeh also recommended allowing highly trained professionals to work in the Lebanese market “when needed,” and forming a dialogue committee between the Lebanese and Palestinian economic communities. “This would enable Palestinian refugees to work more effectively toward their own welfare and the development of the country hosting them,” said the report.

New signs remind revelers that people live in Gemmayzeh, too

22 Nov

New signs remind revelers that people live in Gemmayzeh, too
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Thursday, November 20, 2008

New signs remind revelers that people live in Gemmayzeh, too

BEIRUT: Blue signposts declaring that “Gemmayzeh is a residential area” sprouted up all along the popular nightspot’s main road, Gouraud Street earlier this week. The metal signs follow months of growing friction between the area’s residents and bar owners over noise levels, the lack of police presence and access to parking places.

Every weekend, thousands of cars cruise down Gemmayzeh’s narrow roads in search of parking spaces, causing heavy congestion. By midnight, Gouraud Street, a mere 730 meters long and home to dozens of bars and clubs, is positively throbbing with life, and the sound of drunken party-goers, car horns, music and over-enthusiastic valets fill the air. With a serious lack of parking spaces available, people park their cars wherever they find a space, often illegally, or in nearby neighborhoods.

Aida Azouri, a resident of Tabaris, south of Gemmayzeh, said party-goers were transforming her area into a parking lot on a nightly basis. “It would be better for everyone if they pedestrianized” Gouraud Street, she said, “or at least banned cars there after 9 p.m.”

Following a sit-in by disgruntled residents in March over what they dubbed the “hijacking” of local parking spaces and unbearable noise, Tourism Minister Joe Sarkis shut down over 20 bars said to be operating without licenses and imposed a curfew on the remaining establishments.

On April 14, those curfews were officially dropped, and although agreements were drawn up between the government and Gemmayzeh establishments to ensure the neighborhood was kept quiet for its sleep-deprived residents, the long-standing dispute soon resurfaced.

“We love Gemmayzeh, but we’d also love it to be a bit quieter after midnight,” said Huguette Sfeir, who has lived next to Gouraud Street’s busiest cluster of bars since 1983. “Thursdays to Saturdays, it is very noisy until 2 a.m.,” said Sfeir, who admitted she used to throw eggs and water at raucous pedestrians. “I would like those people making noise to come to my house so they can hear what I hear.”

But while Sfeir wanted a quieter neighborhood, she had reservations about how effective the signs were. “I thank the Beirut Municipality for putting up the signs, but actually I think they’ve wasted their money,” she said.

What is needed in Gemmayzeh is a police presence, added Sfeir. “Two weeks ago, there were two women fighting late at night, beating each other up and shouting. Last week, there were people with pocket knives fighting.” During both incidents, the police were nowhere to be seen.

Makram Zene is president of the Committee for the Development of Gemmayzeh, which comprises Gemmayzeh bar owners and residents, and owns a number of the area’s bars and restaurants. Echoing Sfeir’s sentiments, he said that while the signs were put up “to make people aware” of the area’s residents, “people will not really respect what the signs mean unless they are enforced by the police.”

For things to improve in Gemmayzeh, said Zene, immediate action on two vital points had to be taken. “The Municipality [of Beirut] has to open the Charles Helou parking lot as soon as possible, and traffic police have to be present in the area … We need the police here to regulate traffic and maintain security.”

The Charles Helou car park, an unsightly three-story building at the edge of Gemmayzeh, was built in the 1980s to serve the Beirut Port and the nearby areas of Saifi, Medawwar and Martyrs Square. But it has since stood derelict, with only the structure’s facade functioning as an unofficial bus terminal. Rerouting parking from Gemmayzeh to Charles Helou “would bring money to the municipality,” which owns the lot, said Zene. “The [acting] governor [Nassif Kalloush] is working on it and we ask him kindly to hasten the procedures because we are sure it will solve 50 to 60 percent of the area’s problems.”

When contacted on Wednesday by The Daily Star, the head of Beirut Municipality Michel Assaf said that “Gemmayzeh was of course a residential area not intended for pubs and restaurants,” but declined to comment on future Municipality policies in the area or the Charles Helou parking lot.

Meanwhile, as the bickering between residents and entrepreneurs continues, Beirut’s Hamra district, rapidly growing as a rival to Gemmayzeh, looks set to benefit. Most recently, Molly Malone’s, a bar that had been long-entrenched on Gouraud Street, moved to Hamra, leaving behind at it’s former premises only an angry banner complaining that annual rent had jumped from $30,000 to $130,000. With demand for property in Gemmayzeh at an all-time high, rent has sky rocketed.

Another resident sit-in is slated for 23 January, said Sfeir. The priority is to push for a solution to Gemmayzeh’s parking problems. “We are going to block the road to push for Gemmayzeh’s parking spaces to be only for the use of its residents. Rules must be made,” she said.

Beirut nightspot looks to end sectarianism

10 Jun

Beirut nightspot looks to end sectarianism

Doubling as an NGO, Club 43 wants to bring Lebanese from different walks of life together
By Dalila Mahdawi
Special to The Daily Star

BEIRUT: Hidden away on the second floor of a residential building, it would be easy to overlook Gemmayzeh’s most unusual bar. Club 43 is perhaps one of the area’s best-kept secrets, offering more than the usual fare of drinks, music and food. The club is also a non-governmental organization (NGO), and the first in Lebanon to combine social activism with a bar and restaurant.

From the entrance lined with bright plastic flowers to the club’s choice of paint, Club 43 lacks the formal atmosphere that plagues many other NGOs and cultural clubs. “We wanted to create a place where you could come, have some drinks and laugh with your friends. I believe culture is better expressed with some music and a few beers,” says president Imad Geara.

Originally established in 1967 by lawyers as a cultural club for members of the legal profession, Club 43 opened up to the public shortly after. Run solely by volunteers, the club generates its entire income through its bar and restaurant services. Club 43’s refusal to accept donations, whether by organizations or individuals, is fueled by a refusal to be compromised by a sectarian or political agenda. Indeed, from its inception, the club has focused on social welfare activities and has continuously campaigned against sectarianism.

Two Club 43 members, lawyers Sami Chkifi and Marcel Geara were the men responsible for the court case that saw the word “sect” removed from Lebanese identity cards.

Although Lebanon’s 18-month-old political crisis was solved by the Qatar-mediated Doha agreement, sectarianism is still widespread and many of the confessional militia groups that fought in the 1975-1990 Civil War are still functional in Lebanese politics today. After the May clashes between opposition and pro-government gunmen in Beirut and other cities, Club 43 replaced the international flags that normally hang from its windows with the flags of Lebanon’s numerous political factions.

“Some people don’t like what we’ve done. But we have put all the flags together to try and say, ‘We are all Lebanese and we must accept each other.’ We are trying to send a message of peace and tolerance,” Geara said.

In line with that message, the club also produces stickers that read “Say No to Sectarianism.”

Every Friday at midday, the club opens its doors to 70-100 homeless people and provides them with free meals. During this time, they can receive free legal advice from the many lawyers who volunteer. In the past, Club 43 has also offered them free blood and cholesterol tests.

“Interestingly, 90 percent of them did not have any health problems because they walk everywhere and don’t eat junk food,” Geara laughs.

The weekly lunches have provided otherwise excluded members of society with a chance to engage with others, and according to Helene Ata, a psychologist who volunteers with the club, numerous close friendships have been formed as a result.

Geara is emphatic about the secular nature of the club, remarking: “We never ask their religious or political affiliations. They just come, feel at home and have lunch.”

Club 43 has also offered itself as a meeting space for other NGOs, such as Nahwa al-Muwatiniya, Khallas! and Rotar-Act, the youth branch of the Rotary Club. The Club is also in the process of launching an NGO FM radio station, to be launched this month, which will replace KISS 104.9. The station “will play music, give free airtime to NGOs to make public service announcements and have three interviews daily with different NGOs,” says Geara.

Adorning one of the walls in the club’s bar is a framed Daily Star article dated October 1968 and quoting the club’s then-president, Marcel Geara: “‘We decided to call the club 1943 because it was then that Muslims, Christians and Druzes were united in establishing an independent Lebanon.’ But, he pointed out, 25 years after Independence, there is still enmity between the religions.