Lebanon’s youth bearing the brunt of unemployment, regional instability
Beirut - Lebanon is plagued by one of its worst unemployment crises in history, compounded by domestic and regional political instability and a massive influx of refugees fleeing war in neighbouring Syria. As in most parts of the world, Lebanon’s youth bear the brunt of the country’s economic woes.
The overall unemployment rate in Lebanon stands at 25%, with unemployment among those under 25 at 37%, Lebanese Labour Minister Mohammad Kabbara said.
“We have approximately 30,000-35,000 young people who graduate from university every year and only 5,000 jobs are offered annually, which leaves some 30,000 without jobs,” he said.
“The majority of young graduates used to find work in the Gulf countries but we all know what the situation is like at present. In fact, many Lebanese expatriates are returning home because of shrinking opportunities.”
With the drop in oil prices and rising security concerns, employment opportunities in the traditional external markets — in the Gulf, in African countries and in the West — have considerably decreased for Lebanon’s labour force. Some counties have sought to apply tougher entry regulations that further limit employment possibilities, increasingly blocking the outlets that traditionally helped ease Lebanese unemployment.
“This is seriously impacting the national economy, which relies largely on the remittances of expatriates,” Kabbara said. “The situation in Lebanon is extremely difficult now, and this is due to regional crises, especially in the Gulf region, and because of the war in Syria.”
Considering such a dramatic situation, there is an urgent need to create jobs within Lebanon’s borders by adapting the educational curricula to future labour market needs, the minister stressed.
“There should be a comprehensive national labour study of the market. We have a saturation of engineers, medical doctors and business and finance professionals, whereas there are other professions which Lebanon needs and is in short of,” Kabbara said.
“Vocational and technical education is very important but still untapped. We need to guide the youth towards fields that offer job opportunities, such as vocational training, which produces specialised skilled workers.”
The “massive and unorganised” influx of Syrian refugees, he said, aggravated Lebanon’s unemployment problem. Tensions increased in recent years as refugees competed with Lebanese for jobs and strained the country’s basic services and infrastructure, especially in the poorest areas, where refugees are mostly highly concentrated.
“The competition by cheap Syrian labour is real and very true,” Kabbara said. “There are many illegal non-Lebanese (Syrian) businesses. They do not abide by the labour laws, evade taxes and lack mandatory requirements, constituting the biggest danger to our national economy.”
“Moreover, you have big local institutions in Beirut employing Syrians because they pay them lower wages. I am not only talking about unskilled labour but also computer technicians, IT engineers and other jobs that should be for the Lebanese.”
Kabbara said the ministry was reinforcing inspections to crack down on illegal Syrian employment and businesses.
“The problem is that we have a small number of inspectors who cannot properly cover all areas. We are mainly focusing on areas where you have high refugee concentration, namely in the north and the Bekaa Valley, and we have already closed down tens of illegal trades and fined Lebanese firms hiring non-Lebanese illegally.”
Also, child labour, which was an issue in Lebanon before the Syrian crisis, has multiplied since the arrival of refugees in 2011. Some Lebanese employers prefer to hire children, finding them cheaper and more compliant than adults. The Labour Ministry estimates their number is no less than 250,000, with the overwhelming majority Syrians. Some NGOs say that 60-70% of refugee children work.
Almost all refugee children in Lebanon’s eastern Bekaa Valley work in fields, many exposed to dangerous pesticides and fertilizers. In towns and cities, they work on the streets, begging, selling flowers or shining shoes. They also work in markets, factories, shops and construction sites and run deliveries.
Lebanon hosts 1.1 million registered Syrian refugees, one-quarter of its population but officials said the number was at least 1.5 million.
Kabbara said Lebanon was expected to benefit tremendously from Syria’s eventual reconstruction. “For instance, the Chinese are very interested in Lebanon (as a base) for Syria reconstruction. This will definitely create thousands of job opportunities for the Lebanese,” he said.
In the longer term, the oil and gas sector is bound to create considerable and sustainable employment opportunities at all levels.
However, the economic situation in Lebanon remains tightly linked to other regional issues, including the war in Syria and the Gulf crisis. “All this is impacting us and we are paying a high price, especially our youth,” Kabbara said.