BEIRUT–The global human rights activist organization known as Amnesty International called upon Lebanon’s legislative decision-makers on Wednesday as part of its campaign to put an end to the long-standing kafala sponsorship system.
Amnesty International stated in its report that this system has enabled the exploitation and domestic abuse of migrant workers for years.
This new intervention from the Amnesty International echoes the activism of local organizations, like Kafa, ARM, and MWTF, that have been demanding fair treatment to the foreign domestic workers. Now, Amnesty International is working with Lebanese Minister of Labor Camille Abou Sleiman to reform the laws governing migrant workers and bring an end to the abuse.
“Lebanon’s new minister of labor has committed publicly, as well as directly, to Amnesty International that he will take concrete measures to protect migrant domestic workers’ rights,” said Heba Morayef, the Amnesty International’s MENA Director. “The new government has a chance to distance itself from the past and prioritize ending the inherently abusive kafala system.”
This is not the first time Amnesty International attempts to eradicate oppressive laws and mistreatments of migrants in the MENA region (the Middle East and North Africa).
On December 2018, the global organization issued a report condemning “governments across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)” for “collectively failing to protect the rights of migrants in their countries.”
Unfortunately, Lebanon is reported among these countries. “Instead of taking measures to protect domestic workers’ rights, the authorities have repressed those seeking to improve respect for them and failed to recognize a union for domestic workers set up in 2015,” the report stated.
Under the kafala system, migrant workers are monitored when working in a foreign country through an in-country sponsor, who is also their employer.
Without a sponsor, these workers are not able to obtain residency under Lebanese laws. If they have a sponsor, they are not allowed to leave the premises of their employment without their employer’s consent.
With the recent protest surrounding the issue, more light has been shed on the conditions of these workers and their susceptibility to exploitation, repression, sexual and physical abuse, forced labor, human trafficking, and even suicide.
For its recent report, the Amnesty researchers interviewed 32 women from various countries, including Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, and the Philippines. Six of these women admitted to being physically abused during their time of employment in Lebanon.
Others within the group described the verbal abuse they suffered, one of whom cited being called ehmara (or “donkey”) on a regular basis. Another woman recalled her experience of not being allowed to sit on the family couch because they allegedly believed she would “spread her bacteria.”
One woman from the Philippines stated in her testimony that she had to remain completely isolated in her employer’s residence for over three years. If she even opened a window to wave at a fellow Filipina, her employer would pull her by her hair and beat her.
“The horrifying testimonies in this report show how the kafala system grants employers almost total control over the lives of migrant domestic workers,” Morayef said.
In addition to interviewing these women, the researchers also conducted interviews with Lebanese NGOs who have been targeting the abuse of migrant workers, employers of migrant workers, and government officials.
Although the conditions of many of these migrant workers have been inhumane, many Lebanese organizations are joining in the fight to better these workers’ lives and help them obtain the rights they deserve.
Along with these local NGOs, many other Lebanese are fighting for the rights of these migrant workers as well. Enough Violence and Exploitation (KAFA) is an NGO that has been around since 2005, and they have held several campaigns and manifestations against the abuse of domestic workers.
Moreover, the International Labor Organization launched its Action Program for Protecting the Rights of Women Domestic Workers (PROWD) in Lebanon in 2011 as a way to improve the working conditions of these individuals.
The Lebanese Migrant Workers Task Force (MWTF), a volunteer organization, has been at work as well “to improve the situation of migrant workers in Lebanon through grassroots initiatives.” In 2015, they joined forces with the local NGO Anti-Racism Movement (ARM) that is led by young Lebanese activists ‘in collaboration with migrant community leaders.’
With the Ministry of Labor now vowing to get actively involved with “concrete actions”, we expect the resolution of this unacceptable human issue in our country. The961 stands for equal human rights to all and the must of respect of the human dignity of all without exception.
We join our voice in calling for the eradication of the Kafala system, and the penalization of domestic workers’ abuse and exploitation.