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Meagre job prospects for Syrian refugees in Lebanon

Cement block t-shelters for Syrian refugees being constructed with help from the Danish Refugee Council, UNHCR's partner in Lebanon,  near a mosque in the town of Aarsal, in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, Nov 6, 2012.
Shelters for Syrian refugees being constructed with help from the Danish Refugee Council, UNHCR's partner in Lebanon, in the town of Aarsal, in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Nov 6, 2012 (Jodi Hilton/IRIN)

For the roughly 120,000 registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon winter means not just freezing temperatures but also fewer jobs, especially in rural areas.

"In October we had work for about five days in total. Last month, I only worked one day," said Jaffan*, 23, who (with his wife and three children) is a refugee close to Zahle in the Bekaa valley. They fled Damascus four months ago.

In October, only about 20 percent of refugee families were able to find employment, according to research by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Save the Children published by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

The report says casual work opportunities fall by half in winter.

All Syrians are allowed to work in the six months following legal entry into Lebanon; however they do not have access to welfare benefits which require an official work permit costing up to $10,000 for a year.

Registered Syrian refugees can live and work in Lebanon indefinitely and although in theory they would need to pay for the work permit to get access to social security, UNHCR is currently negotiating with the Lebanese government to have these fees reduced.

Before the crisis, there were an estimated 300,000 Syrians living in Lebanon, many of them migrating for seasonal agricultural work.

Since the start of the crisis, the number of Syrians has swelled with 120,000 registered refugees, and an additional 40,000 in contact with UNHCR and waiting to be registered.

The true number of those who have fled the crisis may be twice this number of official refugees, according to Catholic charity Caritas: many say they fear persecution if they register.

Fleeing the crisis, looking for work

Wael*, 24, fled Damascus because of the crisis, though he says he has not registered as a refugee because he fears it would put him in danger after he fled military service in Syria. He works helping to repair cars at a garage in Mar Mikhael, an industrial hub in east Beirut. The work is sporadic and pays him no more than US$100 per month.

Those seeking work frequently move to the cities, especially now the winter season has started.

''Last month, I only worked one day'' – Jaffan*, 23, Syrian refugee in Lebanon

“I’m working as an electrician to make US$200 a month despite my degree in veterinary science,” said Taufic*, 31, from Tartus, who is now a refugee in the Lebanese capital Beirut. In Syria, he worked as a vet at a private clinic. Many of his Syrian refugee friends are unemployed.

Some refugees work for payment in kind. Ali*, 25, originally from Homs, cleans the reception and stairs of a building in the Shia area of Dahya every day. In exchange, he lives in the rooftop - a home of sorts, but which lacks furnishings, windows, electricity and running water.

In the south of Lebanon, many Syrian refugees find jobs working on construction sites.

“But even with some work, most of them have to rely on food aid from the World Food Programme (WFP) to feed their families,” a humanitarian worker in Tyre told IRIN. Each registered refugee receives a $30 per month voucher to buy basic items from local stores.

The IRC/Save the Children report says unemployment is pushing Syrian families to send their children to work - and also take on debt, frequently with their passports or identity papers as a guarantee.

Nascent tensions

The influx of refugees is placing strains on a Lebanon that was already struggling to provide employment and housing to Lebanese citizens.

Overall youth unemployment is estimated at 19 percent, while even for those who are employed, more than two thirds are in the informal sector.

“Because there are so many Syrians in Lebanon now, it is more difficult for Lebanese to work too. We learnt of cases of Lebanese associations in the Bekaa asking city mayors not to allow Syrians to open businesses here,” said Shombi Sharp, UNDP's deputy country director in Lebanon.

UNDP says it is aware of nascent community tensions and supports conflict prevention projects and training on the handling of disputes.

“If you are worried about the refugees you have to worry too about the Lebanese host community”, said Sharp.

*not a real name


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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