BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon’s parliament passed a law on Tuesday granting Palestinian refugees basic civil rights and rights campaigners said more needed to be done.
Palestinians have long been marginalized in Lebanon, where the 1975-90 civil war was sparked by a conflict between Palestinian and Lebanese Christian factions.
More than 425,000 registered refugees, most of them Sunni Muslims, now live in 12 overcrowded and unsanitary camps.
The latest law enables Palestinians to be engaged in entrepreneurial business, but maintains a bar on professions such as practicing medicine and the law.
“Its a step in the right direction,” said Nadim Houri, head of Human Rights Watch in Lebanon. “It needs to be accompanied with administrative reforms, awareness campaigns among employers that they can hire Palestinians.”
An earlier proposal to allow them to own a residential apartment was dropped, but some lawmakers said it may be addressed in a separate law.
Some politicians in Lebanon argue that granting them civil rights such as property ownership and work permits would promote naturalization — an explosive issue which has raised fears of upsetting Lebanon’s delicate sectarian balance.
“This is an important and basic step toward improving the humanitarian conditions of the refugees,” lawmaker Hassan Fadlallah told Reuters.
“It does not have any political effects because the Lebanese unanimously agree on the Palestinians right of return and reject naturalization.”
Palestinians themselves have repeatedly said they oppose plans to settle them in Lebanon, saying they want to go back to the villages their families fled or were forced to flee during fighting which created the state of Israel in 1948.
“The parliament has passed the Palestinian rights (law) which is related to work and (giving them) social security,” said lawmaker Nawwaf al-Mussawi after the session.
The law allows granting refugees work permits without fees and also calls for setting up a fund to cover expenses of work related accidents and end of service pay.
Some Lebanese employers are reluctant to hire Palestinians because of mutual history of mistrust that goes back to the days of the civil war in Lebanon.
“This has nothing to do with the law... the political leaders have an important role to play in this. Employers have to change mentality,” Houri told Reuters.
Those who do hire refugees tend to pay them lower wages. Palestinian refugees are not allowed to benefit from public services and face restrictions in universities and schools.
Years of deprivation have turned some refugee camps into militancy hubs and many are a no-go area for Lebanese military.
Palestinian militants have been blamed for attacks on U.N. peacekeepers in Lebanon, firing rockets from Lebanon into Israel and forming al Qaeda-inspired cells in refugee camps.
Editing by Maria Golovnina