Syrian workers are necessary for Lebanon's economy, but Damascus is ready to discuss "means to organize" their presence there, the secretary general of the Supreme Syro-Lebanese Council said in an interview published Saturday.
Nasri Khoury told the Damascus official daily Tishrin that the Syrian labor force in Lebanon was "necessary, because it contributes to Lebanon's economic growth." He said the number of Syrian workers in Lebanon was often exaggerated and added that, according to a recent census, their number had not changed since 1976.
The Syrian labor force in Lebanon is concentrated in the building sector and estimated at anywhere between 200,000 and 1.5 million. Khoury said the Syrian government was ready "to discuss means to organize Syrian workers' presence in Lebanon," adding: "Some Lebanese employers are opposed to it because Syrian workers in Lebanon do not benefit from social and medical security."
The comments come amid criticism of Syrian workers' presence in Lebanon, where Damascus is the main powerbroker. Lebanese workers often complain that Syrians can work for less in Lebanon, which already suffers from high unemployment. Khoury also stressed that more than 100,000 Lebanese work in Syria and benefit from the same rights as Syrians.
Most of the Lebanese, who do not need a permit to live or work in Syria, are in the fields of trade, industry and tourism, he explained, adding that "some Lebanese are even doctors, engineers, lawyers or work as civil servants in ministries."
The Syro-Lebanese Supreme Council consists of the two countries' main officials, including both heads of state, prime ministers and parliament speakers, as stipulated in the 1991 treaty of "fraternity, cooperation and coordination." Syria stations more than 30,000 troops in Lebanon, first sent in at the start of Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war. — (AFP, Damascus)
© Agence France Presse 2001
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