Migrant Workers

Women migrants employed as domestic workers faced multiple discrimination on grounds of their nationality, gender and economic and legal status. Their contracts effectively restricted exercise of their rights to freedom of movement and association by forbidding them from changing employers. They also faced exploitation and abuse by employers, including excessive hours of work and non-payment of wages. Hundreds were reported to have suffered physical and sexual abuse at the hands of employers.

The UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons drew attention to the plight of migrant domestic workers during a visit to Lebanon in September, stating that they were denied basic human rights and were inadequately protected by law. The Minister of Labour said new legislation to improve conditions for migrant workers would be proposed by October 2005. However, no progress appeared to have been made on this by the end of the year.

Testimonies : 

“One time, Madame found dust on the furniture. She told me that the house was dirty like my skin.” "Even the dogs are allowed to go out but we’re stuck,” she says from across the balcony. “We’re like slaves here.” - Amira is 25-years old. She comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Sometimes they don’t feed me. If they provide lunch then it is only bread and cheese,” says 19-year old Aisha from Nigeria. “If I runaway and the police catch me without papers, then I will be arrested.”

“My employer gave the agency my passport and now they are giving me two weeks to recover from tuberculosis because they say I have to report to my new employer,” says a Sri Lankan woman who chose to remain anonymous. “To ensure that my new employer is unaware of my illness the agency told me that I will not be able to continue medication once the new employment begins.”

“They have a gang ranking system in here and the Blacks are on the lowest level and the Filipinos are on the higher level,” says one Ethiopian detainee in her native language of Amharic. “The guards tell us to call our families so that they will send us money, which would make our time in jails easier.”

Legal Framework, gaps and practices : 

Labour law- Migrant workers in Lebanon continue to be unprotected workers, excluded from labour législation and often denied basic fundamental rights. Under Article 6, in the Lebanese labour law, migrant workers are considered servants rather than employées.

According to a US State Department 2009 Trafficking in Persons Report released in June, “the government of Lebanon didn’t make sufficient efforts to protect victims of trafficking but instead pursued policies and practices that significantly harmed foreign victims,” which resulted in Lebanon being placed on the Tier 2 Watch-list status.

During 2008, five cases were reported of foreign household servants who had been victims of violence, insufficient payment of salary, and withholding passports, which constituted trafficking. In one case of rape of a domestic worker, the employer was prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment and ordered to pay the victim compensation.

Despite the availability of these statutes and laws against physical and sexual assault, the government reported no criminal prosecutions, convictions, or punishments for trafficking offenses; this represents a significant decrease from the 17 prosecutions reported in 2007. The Lebanese Penal Code does not specifically prohibit forced labor, but Article 569’s prohibition against deprivation of an individual’s liberty to perform a task could be used to prosecute forced labor.

The Lebanese government regularly detains and deports migrant domestic workers who escape their employers and are caught without valid residency or work permits because a worker is required to pay a hefty sum in order to have those papers ‘released’ from their employer.

The Caritas Migrant Center is one of few organizations in Lebanon that offers a 24-hour counseling hotline and shelter for victims of abuse.

Isolation and lack of social protection are also obstacles in dealing with the abuse and suicide of workers.

“There are not enough shelters for these women, which is why they often look to members of their community for help,” explained Joan Lara, a migrant worker from the Philippines.

“Only the Philippines and Sri Lanka have embassies in Lebanon but they lack resources to deal with the amount of cases. If the women go to the police they will be sent back to their employer and if they seek assistance from the agency they find more abuse.”