Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Syrian workers

Lebanese kidnapped in Syria: What kinds of retaliations?

Many Syrian workers are virtually trapped in Lebanon because their Syrian home cities are war zones. Syrian workers are the backbone of Lebanon Real Estates development: When they have to flee back to Syria or go on vacation for the Eid of Adha or Ramadan or…, construction simply stops, and the Lebanese engaged in civil works also take the opportunity to take a vacation…

For example, Egyptian workers mane the gas stations and the health care in hospital and private homes for the elderly

On May 22, news broke of the kidnapping of 11 Lebanese men in Aleppo , of the Moslem Shia sect returning from pilgrimage in Iraq, by a Syrian opposition group. Scores of angry Lebanese men took to the streets, intent on revenge, and they were looking for handy simple Syrian workers in the vicinity.

Fortunately, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah intervened with a speech saying, “The Syrian nationals in Lebanon are our people and attacking them is an offense.” Nasrallah’s words hold much sway among followers and fans, and he saved many from being beaten, or worse.

Moe Ali Nayel published on July 29, 2012 under “Syrian Workers in Lebanon: No Time is Safe...”

 

One of the Syrian workers (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)

That incident of mutual kidnapping activities and retaliations is not unique in Lebanon’s history with its Syrian labor force. Whenever Syria-related political unrest threatens Lebanon, the Syrian workers are the first to suffer. As if they were official representatives of the Syrian regime, the workers are an easy first target.

“It’s becoming dangerous for Syrians working in Lebanon,” Jihad, a 29 year-old Syrian worker from Daraa told me.

“My friends were stopped in Ouzai [Beirut suburbs] by thugs who erected a checkpoint in the middle of the street.” Jihad expressed relief at Nasrallah’s appeal: “I was relieved when Nasrallah came out and asked the masses to leave us alone. His call saved us.”

Jihad, who has worked in Beirut for many years, does menial jobs that many Lebanese consider beneath them. This attitude holds true for the vast number of foreign workers in Lebanon — many of them Syrians, Egyptians, Ethiopians,… — who come to work as cleaners, domestic help, construction and agricultural workers.

Lebanon’s labor laws provide a further incentive for Syrians to emigrate here. The interpretation of these laws make it easy for businesses to import foreign labor, thereby avoiding minimum wage regulations and calls by local workers to improve working conditions.

Itani says he would rather have ten Syrian workers than five Lebanese. 

Jihad the foreign workers like him have a continuing sense of instability. For example:

Following the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri — in which Syria was accused of involvement — there were violent attacks on Syrians throughout Lebanon and many were forced to flee. Today, Jihad explains, “It’s ironic, I’ve been working here in Ras Beirut for 20 years. When Hariri was killed we were attacked by the residents… We had to flee back to Syria. We returned after the hate against us lessened and the Lebanese realized that they need us to get things done.”

Many Syrian workers are virtually trapped in Lebanon because their Syrian home cities are war zones. There has been much focus on the safety of Syrian activists taking refuge in Lebanon, while the safety of Syrian workers has been overlooked. Activists have made their stories heard while a multitude of workers’ stories have gone unnoticed.

Ali Atiyeh a 34-year-old Syrian who has worked in Lebanon for 15 years as an electrician, has experienced daily racism. “Any interaction with the Lebanese people always brings the possibility of a racist encounter. It’s all good until they ask me where I’m from, and when I say I’m from Syria their faces change.”

Atiyeh who speaks the Lebanese dialect adds that he feels slightly different from most Syrian workers. “I have been integrated into the Lebanese way of life. I spend money, go out, and always buy new clothes”. But even with his integration he never feels totally safe. “For example if I’m coming back home from work late at night and there is a police checkpoint and I get stopped, I’m automatically a suspect because I’m Syrian.”

“The latest trend is men driving around at night stopping Syrian workers. The men claim that they are security forces. They mug the worker and drive away,” Atiyeh says.

Racism doesn’t stop there either. According to Atiyeh, “Now that the Syrian revolution is fashionable it has become cool for some Lebanese girls to go out with Syrian activists, while two years ago this was out of the question. I once loved a Lebanese girl and we went out in secret. I knew her family and they treated me as one of them. I decided to propose and asked her father if he agreed to us getting married. After that I was outcast from the family — the mother told me that she would never let her daughter marry a Syrian.”

Many Syrian workers live in extreme poverty; several may share small apartments while others live in tents, shacks, or outdoors on the construction sites where they work. They are therefore visible and an easy target for attacks by Lebanese.

Raed, 17, a Syrian shoe shiner and freelance worker in Beirut — his many other jobs include washing stairs in apartment buildings and delivering food and gas — is scared of being attacked. “Now, since the news about the kidnapped Lebanese, people have warned me not leave this neighborhood because they fear for my safety.”

He speaks about an incident in a stronghold of the Amal Movement. “The other day I was in Hay al-Lija and felt that I was not welcome…A man marched up to me and asked me where I’m from in Syria. I told him Aleppo. I did not dare say I’m from Daraa. Then men gathered and showered me with insults about my sister and mother. I was getting scared and a slap to my face came from nowhere. I pushed them and ran away.”

Raed’s story is not unusual, he says: “Workers can never feel secure in Lebanon. Here, where I live now, our burden is a bit easier than before the Syrian revolution. Now people in this area are seeing us as the sons of one sect. They see us now as Sunnis more than Syrians.” The area that Raed is talking about is traditionally a Sunni neighborhood.

Attacks against Syrians have always crossed sectarian lines. All Lebanese sects have at times been hostile towards Syrians. However, the recent uprising has made old enemies into new comrades.

Supporters of Saad Hariri, the son of Rafik, support the Syrian opposition. “Now,” Jihad says, “these same Lebanese greet us, smile and seem to be fond of us. It makes one wonder what this sudden love for the Syrians is — from the same Lebanese who just a few years ago insulted and looked down on us, as if we were not human.”

Syria and Lebanon: Links between the twin people

I am reading a study on the economical relationshing between Lebanon and Syria, (the second official study since 1996!), a study financed by the UN program for development.  Do you believe that the two border States exchange goods and financial products not exceeding 4% of their combined GNP?  Is that logical, natural, and normal?

Lebanon shares land borders with only Syria, (Israel being the enemy in the south), though Syria shares land borders with Turkey, Iraq, and Jordan.  Syria’s business people opened accounts for only $1.3 billion in Lebanese banks, while most of savings are placed in foreign banks in Europe and the USA. 

Lebanon’s economy is supporting 670,000 Syrian workers (representing 10% of the entire workforce) who generated $1.7 billion in 2010.  Actually, in my neighborhood, only the Syrian working in construction have cash money:  They are maintaining the small grocery shops by buying cigarettes, bread, egg, tomatoes…

The total tourism activities between the two States was only 800,000 citizens, out of a total of 25 million people for the joint society (over 21 million Syrian versus 4 million in Lebanon).  Syrian tourists spent $280 million compared to $290 million for Lebanese tourists in Syria.

The yearly official export from Lebanon to Syria is about $220 million and import from Syria is $240 million.  The effective amount is many folds these numbers, mainly daily exchange of goods and contraband products on the norther border (Akkar region) and eastern borders (The Bekaa Valley).  62% of all import products from Syria are exempt of entrance fees, while no major counterpart are expected from Syria! 

Syrian private investments in Lebanon far exceed Lebanon investment in Syria.  In the last four years, 6 Lebanese banks opened branches in Syria and already hold 20% of the total assests of Syria private banks. 

Last year, I tried to exchange a small amount of Syrian currency and could not locate a single bank or exchange office to do the transaction:  I saw surprised looks of disbelief.

Lebanon schooling system, especially universities, welcomed over 18,000 Syrian students.  Apparently, the student exchange is minimal from the Lebanese side.

First, a brief geo-political summary of the context.  Throughout history, Lebanon was divided into two main regions: 

The mountainous region called Mount Lebanon (see link in note), sparsely populated and a refuge for the various religious monks and sufis who opted for these high mountains to seek seclusion in caves …Pilgrims would venture, stay to serve the secluded clerics until they got a handle of what they wanted from life and leave…

The coastal and the Bekaa Valley were part of administrative regions linked to Syria or Palestine.  Actually, Syria was divided into Inland Syria and coastal Syria, including coastal Lebanon.  Thus, Lebanese were known as Syrians or Turks on their passports during the Ottoman Empire.

I have worked with a few Lebanese companies, abroad and in Lebanon, and my impressions are negative.  “What is clever entrepreneur my ass” is my honest opinion of how I perceive the mentality of doing business in our Lebanese culture.

In 1980, I worked with a Lebanese company in Nigeria; the company contracted out public civil works like opening highways and the disforesting and spreading asphalt on major roads.  I was supposed to be assisting the plant manager for maintaining and repairing heavy-duty equipments. 

The engineers were to wear high brown boots, the kinds that fascist wore, for discrimination reasons; and the boots have to be shining, in this mud riddled camp, shined by an African helper.  Engineers were not supposed to socialize with workers and mechanics, even if they were Lebanese.

Consequently, going out with mechanics was frowned at, and management would sanction me and tell me that workers would refrain from respecting me and obeying my orders….  I was not even permitted to teach the “mechanics specialists” the contents of the repair and maintenance manuals originating from the manufacturer:  Only the engineers and plant manager were to be the knowledgeable persons in the camp.

You had these mechanics who sincerely wanted to learn how to do their job right; they wanted to buy the proper tools and how they work, once they open their own shops back home. Mechanics wanted knowledge and I translated to them from English in inaccurate Arabic terms, but they knew what I was conveying in knowledge.  Management hated what I was doing and scorned me.

For example, one night, robbers killed four Nigerian guards in our camp.  I never received any information whether management visited the bereaved families in the small village or if they paid compensation.  I was glad that I was repatriated shortly after this gruesome attack.

In Lebanon, I worked on a civil project constructing a hotel.  There were no safety guidelines at the workplace.  The Indonesian and Indian workers slept in the large open basement, and nobody was in charge of checking on the habitat or their well-being.  The workers favorite pass-time was catching rats to fry them as delicacy.

A UN report stated that Chinese minorities in South-East Asia, white people in South Africa, and Lebanese in western Africa benefited most from the wealth generated by globalization and open markets in developing countries, particularly in tandem with multinational companies.  

The African leaders who opted to cajole the ethnic majority ended up harassing, robbing, and pressuring Lebanese entrepreneurs out of the country, like in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

For example, the Lebanese in Ivory Coast are in big trouble.  It rumored that President Gbagbo, who hates to step down, even if his country goes in flame, (as is the case of Qadhafi of Libya and Abdullah Saleh in Yemen), favors the Lebanese entrepreneurs.  Nothing wrong with that, unless… There are strong rumors, supported by evidence, that Israel is rekindling the wrath against the Lebanese in Ivory Coast and Africa in general.  This is normal:  The Zionist apartheid State has this habit of transferring people and filling the void… 

Lebanese entrepreneurs, in Lebanon proper, produce to export.  The Lebanese citizens never enjoyed any quality products manufactured or produced in Lebanon:  They are all exported and merchants import third grade products, change the labels, and poison our citizens.  Good fresh fruits are immediately exported in waiting six and eight-wheelers to Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Jordan…The citizens have to contend with the spoiled and smaller categories of fruits…

Lebanon produced four times its need of olive oil:  They are all exported and the citizens have to consume the third grade leftover olive oil and imported poisoned olive oil…And you have this minister of industry encouraging the citizens to buy Lebanese manufactured products; where are those products?

Lebanon has a couple of pharmaceutical “factories”, producing asperine… For a couple of months, the citizens enjoyed low-cost asperine-type of products.  Asperine vanished from local market:  The entire stocks were exported to Saudi Arabia and the Lebanese had to contend with expensive imported asperine that are no different than what we produced.

Syria manufactures 70% of its pharmaceutical needs and it is the government that import the expensive medicines at bargain prices.  The Lebanese have no governments:  They have to deal with the multitude of infamy and indignities on their own. Who is the clever Lebanese Entrepreneur?  Clever my ass!

Lebanon is still standing because the immigrants are sending money to their families back home.  The immigrants who made it, have this habit of build fancy palaces in Lebanon, which stay empty, and return to where they are making money.  Barely they overstay longer than two weeks:  The picocks have more important things to do with their lives. 

The Christian immigrants never contemplate to return and stay in Lebanon:  They didn’t study and abuse of their families’ money in order to returning the favors in their parent’s old age.  Let bygone be bygone.  From far away, they never miss an opportunity to cursing Lebanon and the Lebanese stupid mentality.

We have this youth movement demanding to change the political sectarian and feudal system.  What we need is a strong central government to crack down on these rascals of Lebanese entrepreneurs at home:  The scums of entrepreneurs are the backbone of our degraded political and social structure and the one encouraging discrimination and medieval mentalities.  What can you do if our political stucture is designed not to have a State?

You might say that it is the bourgeoisie that changed old systems:  Correct.   Are you insinuating that our entrepreneurs have anything to do with reforming Lebanon or caring one iota about Lebanon and its people?  Changes are badly needed, it is urgent for our survival as citizens, who only benefited from a lousy passport and Lebanese currencies, bound to this lousy dollars, which is covered by nothing of value!

I may write a more detailed follow up article on the twin people, Lebanese and Syrians.

Note:  Further information on Mount Lebanon https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2008/11/26/types-of-history-stories-mount-lebanon-case-study/


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