Amnesty International said the Lebanese government must announce a set of immediate measures to ensure that migrant domestic workers in the country are protected from exploitative working conditions during the coronavirus pandemic lockdown.
The government must ensure that domestic helpers, including the undocumented, have access to healthcare during the pandemic, said the international rights group.
An estimated 250,000 migrant domestic workers remain trapped under the country’s kafala system, putting their rights and lives at risk during the outbreak.
“The kafala system has always been a form of imprisonment in the home for migrant domestic workers. While staying at home will help prevent the spread of COVID-19, it increases the risk of exploitation and other forms of abuse suffered by live-in migrant domestic workers at the hands of their employers,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Regional Director.
Morayef went on to say that the exploitative working conditions, the threat of violence, and living under lockdown can also have a devastating impact on the mental health of domestic workers
Examples of abuse and exploitation suffered by domestic migrant workers cited by AI include being forced to work extreme hours, being denied rest days, having pay withheld or deductions applied, having communications restricted, and being deprived of food.
Amnesty International is calling on Lebanon’s Ministry of Labour to take immediate measures to help protect live in-domestic workers, such as issuing circulars outlining clear penalties against employers who exploit workers.
The Ministry of Labour must also establish a complaint mechanism specifically designed for migrant domestic workers, ensure that the Ministry’s hotline for reporting abuse is fully activated, and that migrant domestic workers know about its existence.
Meanwhile, thousands of migrant domestic workers who lack work permits are either working without authorisation in the country, or are stuck in detention centres awaiting deportation.
Amnesty International’s research has repeatedly shown how migrant domestic workers without identification documents have often found it difficult to access state services, including healthcare.
The Ministry of Health should lead an awareness campaign for migrant domestic workers on the symptoms of COVID-19, how they can protect themselves, and where they can be tested for the virus even if they are undocumented. Access to testing and health care should be available to all, and no one should be denied access solely because of lack of documentation.
The Ministry of Interior must also ensure that any migrant domestic workers currently held in administrative detention for lacking valid residencies are able to access adequate healthcare without discrimination.
“During a global public health crisis such as COVID-19, any detention solely for migration-related reasons cannot generally be justifiable. At a time like this, the authorities should be trying to reduce their detention population rather than adding to it,” said Morayef.
“When immigration detainees’ right to health cannot be upheld or when deportations cannot be carried out promptly, detainees should be released.” (Source: Amnesty Intl.)