Racism and the Horrific Treatment of Migrant Workers in Lebanon

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from living in the Arab world my entire life, it’s that being part of the same marginalized “category” will not protect someone from prejudice by people in the same category but different “section.” For example, being non-white doesn’t make one immune to discrimination from other non-white people. This is why there’s been an emphasis on the problem of anti-blackness specifically in recent years, instead of the more general term of racism: black people often face a specific type of discrimination from other non-white people. Arabs are, unfortunately, no exception to this.

The kafala system is described as “the relationship between foreign workers and their local sponsor, or kafeel, which is usually their employer. It is found in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates—as well as Jordan and Lebanon.”

In a nutshell, this system gives the worker’s sponsor, who is usually their employer, total control over almost every aspect of the employee. Rather than the labor ministries, it’s the interior ministries that have authority over this system, meaning the employees are not protected by labor laws and are much more likely to be taken advantage of by their employers.

Workers under this system cannot end their employment, change jobs, or leave the country without their employer’s permission. They also cannot leave the workplace–the employer’s home in domestic workers’ cases–without permission, or they could face being detained or even deported as a result, even if the reason behind their leaving is a case of abuse. It’s not uncommon for employers to seize the worker’s passport to make sure they have nowhere to go in case they attempt to escape the workplace.

The kafala system is essentially the revocation of migrant workers’ human rights. There would be no need to confiscate passports and other personal belongings if there was no risk of employees running away, and there would be no risk of employees running away if they were treated as they should be: with respect and decency. Instead, many Lebanese and Arabs opt to enact modern day slavery upon these workers.

English | October 24, 2021



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