Migrant Domestic Workers and Poverty in Lebanon

SEATTLE, Washington — Days after the Beirut explosion, protests began outside the city’s Kenyan consulate. Many of the protesters were Kenyan women migrant domestic workers stranded in Lebanon. In the past year, Lebanon’s economic crisis has intensified. COVID-19 and the massive explosion in Beirut further exacerbated the poor economic conditions. The rate of inflation has accelerated with the Lebanese pound losing 80% of its value since October. Prices of goods have skyrocketed. There have been electricity, food and medicine shortages. The kafala system, Lebanon’s system for migrant laborers, leaves migrant workers one of the more vulnerable groups in the country, without minimal legal protections.

Lebanon’s kafala system allows migrant worker employers to control their migration status. They can cancel the worker’s visa, restrict them from leaving the country and determine whether or not they can change employers or jobs. It is a common practice for employers to confiscate workers’ passports due to little government regulation of employers’ powers. Human rights agencies argue that the kafala system can result in abusive relationships between employer and employee.

Amnesty International counts over 250,000 migrant domestic workers in Lebanon. Most are women from African and Asian countries, seeking work abroad. Recruiters in these countries have been accused of making false claims about job opportunities in Lebanon. One Ethiopian migrant worker described arriving in Lebanon with a group of women only to be brought to a house and told she would serve as their maid. She said she was unable to request a new job and, for two years, worked with minimal pay and no days off.

English | November 27, 2020



We depend on your donation to fight for domestic workers in Lebanon.