The “My Nationality is a Right for Me and My Family” campaign rallied Wednesday outside the Labor Ministry, to protest the crackdown on foreign labor that they say is affecting the non-citizen children of Lebanese women. “Those who are born to a Lebanese woman are not foreigners or refugees, they are Lebanese,” Karima Chebbo, head of the legal unit of the My Nationality campaign, told The Daily Star. “Their legal status should not be the same as [that] of foreigners.”
The law regulating nationality issued under the French Mandate states that for a person to be Lebanese by birth, they must be born to a Lebanese father. But in 2010, Former Interior Minister Ziad Baroud granted the children of Lebanese women a three year “courtesy residency,” which lifted residency fees for this demographic and facilitated work permits.
My Nationality campaigners were received by Labor Ministry General Director George Aida Wednesday to discuss their demands. According to Chebbo, who was present at the meeting, the campaign’s representatives demanded that children of Lebanese women “be recognized [as] an exception,” and receive more favorable treatment than foreign nationals.
Following the inflow of over 1 million Syrian refugees into Lebanon, the Labor Ministry has adopted stricter rules on foreign work permits. “According to the law, [these children of Lebanese women] are foreigners and our role is to apply the law,” Aida told The Daily Star, adding that granting this demographic the full rights of Lebanese nationals is the prerogative of the Parliament rather than the Labor Ministry.
The My Nationality campaign said that since Labor Minister Mohammad Kabbara announced in January that there would be “stringent inspections” of foreign laborers employed by local and foreign companies, the campaign’s hotline has been inundated with calls from people facing work-related problems.
One of them came from Mona, a Lebanese national who wished to withhold her second name. “I appreciate a minister who wants to protect the interests of his people, but my children are not refugees or foreigners, they have lived their whole lives in this country,” Mona told The Daily Star via phone.
Her two children, both graduates of the Lebanese University, have faced discrimination in the workplace because of their Iraqi nationality despite having lived their whole life in Lebanon, Mona said. Her daughter graduated in computer science and left Lebanon in order to be able to work in her field, which is one of many that restrict the involvement of foreign nationals.
Mona’s son wished to remain in the country he was born in having gained a university diploma. “I had to use my connections and pay LL3 million ($1,980) to get him a work permit, but not everyone has connections,” Mona said.
“My son has never been to Iraq but he is considered Iraqi rather than Lebanese. The humiliation we face is beyond words.” She added that her husband – despite holding an Iraqi passport – was also born of a Lebanese mother.
According to figures from Lebanon-based NGO the Legal Agenda, as few as 2,500 Syrian nationals have been granted work permits annually since 2014.
Alaa Khaled, a 24-year-old Syrian national whose mother is Lebanese, expressed regret at the current crackdown on foreign labor. “I was born in Lebanon and graduated in design, but I cannot work in this field. I worked in restaurants but even finding a job in [that] sector has become impossible,” Khaled told The Daily Star.
As the My Nationality campaign members were being received at the Labor Ministry, Khaled was presenting her identity documents to a prospective employer. “As soon as he saw I was Syrian, he refused to give me the job,” she said, adding that she has a valid Lebanese residency and work permit.
While accurate statistics on the number of Lebanese displaced from work since the Syrian crisis began in 2011 are hard to come by, the Labor Ministry place the figure at around 10,000 in 2016. While the My Nationality campaign recognizes the difficulties in the Lebanese labor sector, they argue that the children of Lebanese women should no longer be considered foreigners.
“All my friends are Lebanese and I feel no different to them,” Khaled said. “But every day I am treated as an outsider.”