Domestic migrant workers in the Middle East are trapped in a modern form of slavery under the Kafala system. Indeed, Lebanon is home to a quarter of a million domestic workers. Domestic workers are bearing the brunt of the economic crisis as a result of the stay at home orders due to the pandemic, but many organizations are helping migrant workers evacuate in addition to providing food, housing and legal assistance amid COVID-19 in Lebanon.
The Kafala System
The Kafala System is an exploitative framework that requires migrant workers in Gulf nations to have a sponsor in order to be employed in these regions. The issue with this type of system is that the worker has no autonomy or freedom to choose how much they get paid, nor do they have the option to choose the hours they work. This gives employers a pass to sexually abuse workers, confiscate their personal documents such as IDs, passports, dictate where their employee is allowed to stay or move to and even withhold pay. In short, it allows for a modern form of slavery.
Due to COVID-19 in Lebanon, the country’s economy is projected to take a major hit. Already, the price of food has become inflated, unemployment is on the rise and the local currency value dropped from 1,500 pounds to the dollar to 3,500 pounds to the dollar.
Organizations Providing Relief
- Egna Legna Besidet እኛ ለኛ በስደት: Egna Legna is a women’s rights organization run by Ethiopian domestic workers in Lebanon. Its mission is to provide basic necessities for other female domestic migrant workers at risk. The organization is non-partisan, non-religious and community-based. Egna Legna has raised more than $30,000 on its GoFundMe page which is funding efforts to provide food and medicine to endangered domestic workers in Lebanon. On May 13, the organization made round trips to hospitals to provide migrant workers with food and helped them pay their medical expenses.
- Kafa: Kafa is a Lebanese nonprofit civil rights and women’s rights organization that is non-governmental and secular. Its mission is to stop violence and exploitation against migrant women in Lebanon. The group’s advocacy aims to amend harmful social and economic laws and provide legal support and psychological counseling to migrant victims of gender-based violence. Its “Enough” campaign has helped more than 1,000 migrant women and refugees who faced domestic violence get affordable legal services and psychological support.
- Insan Association: Insan is a non-discriminatory nonprofit registered under Lebanon’s Ministry of Justice that works to protect the most marginalized individuals including domestic workers, asylum seekers and refugees. The foundation helps provide assistance to individuals that the government and the legal system do not typically protect. The organization provides legal assistance, psychological support and educational programs for refugees and migrant workers. A decade since its launch, the organization has helped provide legal assistance and psychological support to more than 900 individuals. The organization won the With and For Girls Award in 2015 for its advocacy and assistance with young female refugees.
The fight for domestic worker rights is intrinsically linked to the fight for women’s rights. Around 80% of domestic workers worldwide are women and one in three women in the Middle East are wage workers. These three organizations are spreading the word about dismantling the Kafala system and freeing migrant women from domestic violence and abusive working conditions. In addition, they are working to provide relief to domestic workers who are suffering the consequences of COVID-19 in Lebanon.
– Isabel Corp