Lebanon called for concern about the fate of domestic workers thrown into the street

With the worsening economic situation in Lebanon, dozens of Ethiopian domestic workers were undoubtedly dismissed by their bosses and abandoned in front of the Ethiopian consulate in Beirut.

“The scene happens every day,” complains Diala Haidar, campaign manager forAmnesty International in Lebanon. Cars stop and dump in front of the Ethiopian embassy in Beirut the domestic workers whose Lebanese families want to get rid of because of the economic crisis affecting the country.

For several weeks the sidewalk towards the embassy has not been empty, mattresses and suitcases piled up on the floor. These Ethiopian migrants have nowhere to go, and not enough money to accommodate themselves. “The return ticket to Ethiopia is too expensive for them, and the situation is made even more difficult with corona virus, because the airport is closed,” explains Diala Haidar, affiliated with Beirut of France 24.

These guest hosts hope that the authorities in their countries can help them. But very often the Ethiopian embassy does nothing. “Some of the women I spoke to were not even received by consular staff who refuse to let them in,” Diala Haidar said.

Ethiopian migrants sleep in front of their embassy in Beirut, June 24, 2020. © AFP

Some have been affected by physical or sexual violence

In early June approximately thirty of them have been provisionally accommodated by the Lebanese authorities in a hotel. “As far as I know, no other operations have been performed since,” Diala Haidar said. “The only people who help these women are the NGOs, the Ethiopian people in Beirut, who provide them food, and Lebanese moved over their fate, which pays for hotel nights.” Amnesty International calls on the Lebanese state to respond by providing “housing, food, health care and all necessary assistance to female migrant workers who have lost their jobs.”

Lebanon is often accused of laxity for the exploitation of foreign domestic workers, who have long been condemned by human rights associations. In particular, they are calling for the abolition of the “kafala” system. It allows an employer to become the legal sponsor of its employee in Lebanon and the latter cannot retire without his permission. Nothing also prevents the employer from confiscating his passport and leaving him completely under grace.

Currently, some 250,000 migrant workers, often Ethiopian, Filipino and Sri Lankan, but also Sierra Leonean and Ghanaian, are employed in this system, depriving them of the right to work. Some are paid as little as $ 150 a month.

Subject to harsh criticism, the kafala opens the door to other serious abuses. According to Doctors Without Borders, six of the Ethiopian employees who have been in front of the consulate in recent weeks have had to be admitted to hospitals for psychiatric problems, some have suffered physical or sexual violence.

Lebanese black life material

The Lebanese authorities have recently sharpened the tone and threatened to punish employers who do not respect the agreement signed with their employees by seizing their passports or paying them no wages.

But for Diala Haidar “it is not enough if there are no inspection mechanisms”. “Lebanon must abolish the Kafala and integrate immigrants into labor law,” she said.

With the globalization of the “Black Lives Matter” movement, calls to end the Kafala have been multiplied in the country. An online application to demand the abolition of this regime, which is described by its authors as “oblivion,” has already collected more than 30,000 signatures.

Driven by public mobilization, the Lebanese Ministry of Labor was forced to respond by organizing a meeting on June 19 with the International Labor Organization and NGOs, including Amnesty International.

“The minister has expressed his intention to present a plan to change labor legislation to include foreign domestic workers,” said Diala Haidar, for which concrete measures are now required. This project, if successful, would guarantee foreign domestic workers the right to leave, minimum wage or freedom of movement, but also the right to leave their job in the event of abuse.

Two suicides per week

For those camped outside their embassy, ​​the Lebanese authorities have announced that homicide will take place without setting a date or announcing a number. Ethiopia could participate. To date, the country has repatriated some 650 Ethiopian women before the health crisis linked to the Covid-19 pandemic.

A return flight to Ghana took place already last week. In a video published on social networks, we see happy passengers dancing with joy on the plane. A release for these women whose situation is sometimes close to slavery.

In 2008, NGO Human Rights Watch indicated that, on average, more than one domestic worker died each week in Lebanon, suicide victims or “fell from a building, often trying to escape.” Since then, the number has doubled, according to human rights activists.

As of June 18, an Ethiopian domestic worker was found hanged at her employer’s home in Temnine el-Tahta, Bekaa, according to the National Information Agency and the Lebanese Daily Orient the day.

With AFP