SAT 19 - 10 - 2019
Date: Jul 19, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
NGOs voice fears of increased scrutiny
Abby Sewell| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Some civil society groups have raised concerns that the recent crackdown on foreign workers in Lebanon is being used as an excuse to scrutinize the work of NGOs.

Lea Yammine, deputy director for the NGO Lebanon Support, a research center focused on civil society, said her organization had in recent weeks heard from a number of NGOs that had received visits from General Security officers asking questions about their staff and activities.

At the same time, she said, new NGOs in the process of registering have had their information forms sent to the Labor Ministry, which had previously not been part of the process. Normally, new NGOs have to submit a statement to the Interior Ministry notifying it of their formation, and in some cases to other ministries, such as the Social Affairs or Youth and Sports ministries, depending on the sector they are working in. Typically, the Labor Ministry is notified only in the case of trade unions.

“For us, it’s inscribed in the trend of shrinking civic space in Lebanon, in the context of restrictions on freedom of speech, of activism and collective mobilization,” Yammine said. “I think there’s a general state of worry about the space we’re allowed to operate in.”

A General Security spokesperson told The Daily Star he “does not have information on the matter.” Labor Minister Camille Abousleiman did not respond to requests for comment.

There had been crackdowns on Syrians working in the private sector before the recent Labor Ministry campaign against undocumented foreign labor. But NGO representatives said the scrutiny of their workforce was a new development.

The Daily Star spoke with representatives of two NGOs who had recently been visited by General Security. Both spoke on condition of anonymity. In one of the cases, an NGO worker said General Security asked about a specific individual who was not, in fact, employed by the organization. Another NGO was reportedly asked to provide details on all its employees and beneficiaries.

“All of us [in the NGO sector], starting from me, we are afraid,” a Syrian man working with an NGO in the Bekaa Valley said. He described himself as a volunteer who receives a small stipend.

He said General Security officers had first visited his organization in late May. They asked for a list of the NGO’s employees or volunteers and for copies of their passports and residency permits. After the NGO provided the list, he said General Security officials asked about other names that they believed had been left out, including some people who had left the organization as much as two years ago. He said General Security again visited the NGO’s office about two weeks ago and asked for a list of its beneficiaries, which he said the NGO did not provide, out of privacy concerns.

He said the NGO’s director had been advised to get work permits for the Syrian employees. However, this is technically impossible, as Syrians in Lebanon, even those with legal residency, are only allowed to work in construction, agriculture and cleaning. The source added that even before the recent crackdown, the NGO had tried to recruit more Lebanese staff, but had had difficulty finding qualified people in the Bekaa Valley.

“We don’t know what we should do,” he said. “If they stop us from helping our community, who will help them?”

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