Lebanon’s Kafala System: The Systematic Abuse of Migrant Domestic Workers

Lebanon, stuck perilously in an unfortunate geographical location, plagued by poverty, economic warfare, inter-sect animosity, and now a global pandemic, regrettably has yet another problem; its infamous kafala system. This long-running system has allowed abuses of migrant domestic workers for such a time that it has become almost second nature to many families to ‘own’ a maid. Many of these workers have been forced to hand over their passports indefinitely to underhanded employers who have no interest in protecting their rights. Many are subjected to physical and emotional violence, unpaid overtime and no days off with no repercussions on the employers from an apparently unaccountable government. The kafala sponsorship system currently accommodates 250,000 foreign workers, who are legally bound to their employers and unable to leave their work without ‘permission’. Now, in the midst of an economic crisis, a post-explosion emergency and a global pandemic, many of these workers have no way out, and at dire risk of abuse and exploitation.

Article 4 of the 1948 UDHR states that “no-one shall be held in slavery or servitude”. However, these migrant workers are entirely unprotected under Lebanon’s 1946 Labour Code, which should ensure them minimum wage and obligatory rest days. As well as this, Lebanon has been party to the ICESCR, forming part of the International Bill of Rights, since 1972; the ILO Conventions concerning the Abolition of Forced Labour and Discrimination in Respect to Employment, both ratified by Lebanon in 1977, seemingly don’t apply to the migrants forced to work in potentially abusive conditions without the basic rights that are afforded Lebanese workers. Lebanon is violating multiple international Conventions: and yet the international community continues to turn a blind eye.

English | August 27, 2021



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