Sad News from the Lebanon
Alem Dechasa, a 33-year-old mother of two from Ethiopia, was traded to the Lebanon, working as a domestic worker. In March 2012 a video showed how she was tormented publicly by an employee of the Lebanese domestic workers’ office, who threatened her to send her back to Ethiopia. She was brought to psychiatry and after two weeks there she hung herself.
“Forced labor, servitude, slavery and practices similar to slavery – Each involves some type of exploitation, control, or coercion related to the extraction of labor or personal service by one individual from another. Such compelled labor is generally derived from a person whose free will has been compromised in the process. While slavery and servitude have connotations that relate more directly to outright ownership or bondage, forced labor may arise from a more temporary position, status, or situation.”
Excerpt from a study of the Lebanese NGO “KAFA (enough) Violence & Exploitation”
about “Trafficking of Migrant Domestic Workers in Lebanon – A Legal Analysis” (PDF)
We can see in the Lebanon how common the employment of domestic workers is: With a population of about four million people the country employs roughly 200,000 migrant domestic workers! Same with other Arab countries and an estimated 53 to 100 million domestic workers worldwide.
“According to estimates Human Rights Watch has collected from labor-sending and labor-receiving governments and figures released by governments to the media, there are approximately 1.5 million migrant domestic workers in Saudi Arabia; 660,000 in Kuwait; 200,000 in Lebanon; 300,000 in Malaysia; and 196,000 in Singapore. In some countries, including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, and Singapore, migrant domestic workers may comprise close to one quarter of the overall migrant population.”
Source: “Slow Reform – Protection of Migrant Domestic Workers in Asia and the Middle East” (HRW 2010)
According to the latest ILO estimates, domestic workers represent 4 to 10 per cent of the total workforce in developing countries and 1 to 2.5 per cent of the total workforce in developed countries. This should be acknowledged at least by fair working conditions and by sufficient labour rights for migrant workers.
The Kafala-System in Arab Countries
The impact of the socalled sponsorship system – Kafala - in the domestic workers’ section is broad and ubiquitous. Kafala systems form the legal basis for the residency and employment of migrant domestic workers in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries as well as Lebanon and Jordan:
“Migrant domestic worker in Lebanon are legally required to have a sponsor who exercises considerable control in practice over her legal status in the country as well as her freedom of movement and her employment mobility. In virtually all cases, domestic workers’ sponsors are also their employers.”
That opens the floodgates to abuse.
In another study 2008, Human Rights Watch reported “an average of one death a week from unnatural causes among domestic workers in Lebanon, including suicides and unexplained falls from tall buildings.”
“This system, along with often exorbitant fees paid to recruitment agents, encourages an unfortunate interpretation of kafala as a form of “ownership”, most sinisterly illustrated by the confiscation of the workers’ passports.”
Source: Layla Maghribi in “The Guardian“
We all should keep an eye on the sinister side of the Arab Spring and help those millions of domestic workers who are excluded from the protection and the compliance of their most common and basic human rights.