“When they find out you’re Palestinian, they say no"

Mohammed*, a Palestinian refugee nurse in a Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) hospital in Lebanon, spoke to MAP about the barriers he faces working in the health sector in Lebanon.

His story exemplifies concerns in Medical Aid for Palestinians’ (MAP) recent report, Health in Exile. The report outlines how 70 years of displacement, discrimination and marginalisation have undermined the health and dignity of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

As many as 39 professions are currently barred to Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, including all major healthcare jobs. Many do want to work in this sector, but face barriers and difficulties.  Many of those with healthcare qualifications – such as medicine or nursing – work illegally in Lebanese hospitals, without contracts, security or benefits. Those working inside the Palestinian refugee camps, such as in Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) hospitals, have low wages and fewer opportunities for development.

Mohammed, what job do you do?

I have been working as a nurse in the emergency department of a Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) hospital for the last 10 years.

Why did you decide to become a nurse?

Many of my family members are either nurses or doctors. My uncle who I used to look up to when I was a child was a nurse. In the past, many Palestinian nurses used to work in Dubai. Unfortunately, around 10 years ago, Gulf countries stopped giving work visas to Palestinians. 

Where and how did you train to become a nurse?

I studied at the PRCS’s nursing school. It is a two-year course. Studying there is almost free.  But the school closed a few years ago.

How did you start working at the PRCS hospital?

I tried hard to travel to the UAE to work, but I couldn’t. It was impossible to get a visa.

I applied to work at many Lebanese hospitals, but they did not accept me. When they find out that you’re Palestinian, they say no without giving you a chance.

It was not possible to work at Lebanese hospitals for another reason. My nursing degree was from PRCS’s nursing school which is not accredited or recognised by the government. My only option was to work at a PRCS hospital.

I sat for the official Lebanese nursing exams, but failed. The exams were at the same period as my wedding, so I was distracted and didn’t study well. Later on, after having children, studying was no longer an option for me. I need to be working all the time to support my two children.

Can you describe your working conditions?

I used to have a permanent contract, but my salary was very low ($367)- lower than the minimum wage in Lebanon ($450). A few years ago, similar to many Palestinians, I illegally immigrated to Germany. I stayed there for one year but my living conditions there were very bad, and I was not able to find any work, so I returned to Lebanon. I had to apply for my old job, and this time, I was given a temporary contract as the PRCS stopped recruiting on a permanent basis. Sadly, my salary was also reduced, to $300, and, as a temporary employee, I am no longer entitled to an end of service or yearly increments.

The salaries at the PRCS are very low for all employees including doctors. Palestinian nurses in general are paid very low salaries in Lebanon except for those who have advanced degrees or qualifications. Sometimes, very good and highly qualified doctors come to work at the PRCS, but they leave and go to work elsewhere because of the low pay. Lebanese doctors and nurses working in governmental or Lebanese private hospitals are paid much higher salaries.

The hospital provides us with many capacity-building opportunities. We receive many trainings organised by international organizations such as ICRC, Qatari Red Crescent Society, Lebanese Red Cross, NRC, and others. The trainings focus on topics related to emergency care nursing, ICU nursing, First Aid, etc.

The hospital is well- equipped, well-kept, spacious, and has good management. The problem is the staff. I think the hospital needs to do more work with the staff- starting with improving their salaries and capacity.

What opportunities would you like to have in your work?

I have many training/workshop certificates and I have extensive experience, but the degree I have prevents me from moving my career forward. The fact that I am Palestinian makes work opportunities very limited.

I hope to be able one day to study and get a better degree or to pass the Lebanese official nursing exam. However, I know this is not possible. I have many financial responsibilities and I cannot quit my job or dedicate time to anything but work.

Would you like to be able to join the Order (syndicate) of Nurses in Lebanon?

We have been hearing that Palestinian nurses can join the Order of Nurses. In practice, it is very difficult. My uncle tried to join the order, but he was not successful. They kept on sending him from one place to another and asking for documents. They put too many obstacles in his way. He spent much time (his annual leave) and effort and did not manage to join the Order.

To find out more read our new report, Health in Exile.

*Name changed to protect identity

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