The economic crisis in Lebanon, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, has led to a disturbing phenomenon of the overwhelming Ethiopian migrant domestic worker being fired and dumped outside their country’s consulate in Beirut. Ethiopian authorities have not been very helpful and have provided NGOs with providers as best they can.
In recent weeks, cars have stopped in front of the Ethiopian consulate in Beirut and domestic workers have been unloaded on the sidewalk, abandoned by Lebanese families to get rid of their maids and childcare, and thus become peoples of the country’s economic crisis, which has been exacerbated by Covid- 19 pandemic.
“The scene happens every day,” said Diala Haidar, Amnesty International’s campaign manager in Lebanon, in a phone interview with AXADLE from Beirut. The unfortunate foreign workers, with suitcases and sometimes mattresses on the trailer, have climbed on the sidewalk outside the consulate because they cannot afford local rents. Going home is also very difficult. “The return car to Ethiopia is too expensive,” Haidar explained.
The homeless migrant workers are told that their consulate will help them, but that is not the case. “Some of the women I talked to were not even received by the consular staff, who refuse to let them in,” Haidar said.
‘kafala“turns homes into prisons
In early June, some 30 abandoned foreign workers were temporarily accommodated by Lebanese authorities in a hotel. “As far as I know, no other surgery has been performed since then,” Haidar said. “The only people who help these women are NGOs, the Ethiopian people in Beirut who bring them food, and some Lebanese people, moved by their difficulties, who pay for hotel nights.”
Amnesty International has called on Lebanese authorities to protect migrant domestic workers. “The Ministry of Labor, the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of the Interior must work together in order to quickly investigate and avoid the further development of this crisis. They must immediately provide housing, food, healthcare and other support to the migrant domestic workers who have lost their jobs, ”the London-based group said in a statement.
Lebanon is often accused of laxity in dealing with the exploitation of foreign domestic workers, who have long been condemned by human rights groups.
During kafala, or sponsorship, systems that bind the worker’s legal residence to a contractual relationship with the employer, an employee cannot resign without the employer’s permission.
In a 2019 report, “Their home is my prison, “Amnesty noted that” If this employment relationship ends, even in cases of abuse, the worker loses regular migration status. “The report found that the contractual relationship” allows the employer to force the worker to accept exploitative working conditions. If a migrant domestic worker refuses such conditions and decides to leave the employer’s home without his or her consent, the worker risks losing his residence status and consequently detention and deportation. “
There are currently around 250,000 migrant workers – mainly Ethiopian, Filipino and Sri Lankan women, but also Sierra Leonean and Ghanaian women – employed under kafala system. Some are paid as little as $ 150 a month.
Lebanon is facing a severe economic crisis in the global pandemic and a protest movement against the government that has seen protesters take to the streets of several cities requiring a review of the country’s political system.
As a result of currency devaluation, inflation and high unemployment, Lebanon’s middle class is rapidly falling into poverty and household workers are no longer affordable in many households.
The Covid-19 crisis has exacerbated the physical and mental health crisis of this particularly vulnerable, marginalized part of society, according to relief organizations. In April, the French NGOD Doctors Without Borders (MSF) set up a helpline for migrant domestic workers and were flooded with calls for help. According to the MSF, six of the Ethiopian female workers outside the consulate in recent weeks must be admitted to hospitals for psychiatric problems, some of which have been abused or sexually abused.
Black Lives Matter, Lebanese style
The Lebanese authorities have vowed to tighten supervision and threaten to punish employers who do not respect the contracts signed with their foreign employees.
But Haidar warns that “it is not enough if there are no control mechanisms.” The solution, she notes, is to “abolish kafala and integrating immigrant workers into the labor market “.
With the proliferation of Black Lives Matter demonstrations worldwide after the assassination of George Floyd in the US, Lebanon has witnessed a growing call for an end to kafala. One online production which demanded the abolition of the system described as “zero labor, inhumane and racist” and received more than 31,000 signatures in three weeks.
From the mobilization, the Lebanese Ministry of Labor was forced to respond by organizing a meeting on June 19 with the International Labor Organization (ILO) and NGOs including Amnesty International.
“The minister expressed his intention to submit a proposal to amend labor law to include foreign domestic workers,” Haidar said. If successful, the bill would guarantee foreign domestic workers the right to unemployment, a minimum wage and freedom of movement.
The cost of going home
For those who camped in front of their consulates and embassies, the Lebanese authorities announced that retransmissions would take place without specifying specific dates or numbers.
Last week, a group of Ghanaian workers were finally able to leave Lebanon for home. Video clips showed happy passengers singing and dancing with joy in the plane before takeoff.
Ethiopia has so far repatriated some 650 women, who arrived in the capital Addis Ababa to much fanfare.
But there are many more to go and for those who are not happy to get on the first evacuation flight, it has become more difficult for the day.
While occupational safety measures are with the Lebanese authorities, Ethiopia, a rapidly developing country and home of the African Union headquarters, has also been criticized for surrendering its citizens captured abroad. Consider Beirut tickets to Addis Ababa, which recently lowered to $ 1,450 onstate-owned Ethiopian Airlines, an insurmountable amount for abandoned domestic workers.
Ethiopian Airlines explained ia June 3 posts on their Facebook pagethat price includes air and quarantine costs, which the Middle East Matters reported that the airline said would take place at one of 23 hotels designated by the Ethiopian government to keep returning.
But Ethiopian women who returned from Lebanon in May told the Middle East Eye that the government had quarantined them on a college campus free of charge.
Hanna, one of the repatriates, said she couldn’t understand why the university couldn’t be used to make new arrivals. “It’s crazy to expect that people in Lebanon can afford quarantine hotels. They brought us here, why can’t they bring the others here after us? They suffer terribly,” she told Middle East Eye.
The fear of migrant workers in Lebanon is undoubtedly getting worse. In 2008, Human Rights Watch reported that on average more than one domestic worker died each week in Lebanon, either by suicide or by “falling 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 hanging in her employer’s home in Temnine el-Tahta, according to the Lebanese French language daily, L’Orient Le Jour. The report did not reveal whether any charges were made in the case.
This article has been translated and updated from the original in French.