The crisis, an opportunity to break the corrupt kafala system

Lebanon’s sprawling kafala industry has endured a year to forget. For decades, the sector had generated value for Lebanese recruitment agencies, their shady foreign associates and — of course — the employers of kafala workers. All that began to change last October, as Lebanon’s economy entered an unprecedented free fall.

Lebanon’s dollar shortage has drained the kafala industry of foreign currency, which is needed to arrange workers’ passage from abroad and pay their wages. In desperation, employers have terminated contracts with maids en masse — notoriously, some even abandoned workers outside their embassies. Non-domestic kafala workers have not been spared: in May, riot police subdued employees of private waste management company Ramco, who were protesting over unpaid wages.

The kafala system has not faced this kind of existential challenge since it first appeared in Lebanon at the tail end of the Civil War. Until the current crisis, Lebanon was attracting thousands of foreign workers every year: in 2019, 32,951 domestic workers entered the country, including 14,070 Ethiopians, 7,407 Ghanaians and 3,824 Filipinos.

English | December 7, 2020



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