They are not protected by the country’s labor law, but instead work under a set of laws, policies and customs called kafala repeatedly slammed by rights groups as allowing a wide range of abuse. Under kafala, meaning “sponsorship” in Arabic, the employer sponsors the worker’s legal immigration status in the country, and the latter cannot resign without their consent or they become undocumented. The law also does not ban withholding a worker’s passport.
All this leaves a worker at the employer’s mercy. Lebanon’s economic and coronavirus crises have increased the urgency for reform over the past year, with many families now paying their workers in the devaluated local currency, and some not at all. In recent months, dozens of foreign helpers have been thrown out into the streets without due pay or even their passport, many of them interviewed by AFP.