Lebanon must protect abandoned migrant domestic workers – Amnesty

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Amnesty International has called on Lebanese government to protect migrant domestic workers trapped in the country after being losing their jobs due to the intensifying economic crisis.

The Lebanese Ministry of Labour is responsible for enforcing the unified standard contract, which guarantees migrant workers the right to their wages and accommodation, the rights group said.

Recently, dozens of Ethiopian women have gathered outside the Ethiopian Consulate in Beirut. Some have been abandoned by their employers, without pay, their belongings, or passports.

Lebanon is home to more than 250,000 migrant domestic workers, mostly women, from African and Asian countries working in private households.

Migrant domestic workers in Lebanon are trapped by the kafala system, an inherently abusive migration sponsorship system, which increases their risk of suffering labour exploitation, forced labour and trafficking and leaves them with little prospect of obtaining redress.

“These women are among the most marginalised people in society, and are bearing the brunt of the economic crisis which was exacerbated by COVID-19,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s MENA Regional Director.

“The Lebanese government cannot ignore their plight. Under the kafala system, not only are their rights restricted but their lives are endangered as well, particularly as reports of abuse in the home have increased during confinement,” Morayef continued.

“The Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Interior must work together to promptly investigate, and to avoid this unfolding crisis developing further.They must immediately provide accommodation, food, healthcare and other support to the migrant domestic workers who have lost their jobs,” Morayef said.

Amnesty International is calling on the Ministry of Labour to create a labour inspection unit specifically designed to monitor the working conditions of migrant domestic workers so that they can act promptly in the event of breach of contract by employers.

The Ministry of Labour should also create a rapid-response labour dispute mechanism, to ensure workers receive their unpaid salaries and that employers pay for their ticket should the worker wish to return to their home country, as per the contractual arrangement.

Ethiopian domestic workers make up the majority of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon. According to Lebanon’s Ministry of Labour, a total of 144,986 Ethiopian domestic workers held new or renewed work permits issued to them as of November 2018.

However, this figure does not account for the thousands of undocumented Ethiopian domestic workers in the country who lack work permits.

On June 01, a Ministry of Labour official told Amnesty International they were unaware of cases of workers being abandoned by their employers and made homeless. They promised to immediately investigate the matter.

Amnesty International also interviewed five undocumented workers who were waiting to register at the consulate for repatriation and are unable to pay for a flight back to Ethiopia. One said: “I have no money and no work. How can I pay the US$680 for the return ticket?”

Despite repeated requests, the Ethiopian Consulate refused to comment on whether they are providing cash assistance or accommodation and other support for the undocumented workers. (Source: Amnesty Intl.)

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