Sara S. & Wali Ahmad
On Aug. 4, 2020, a destructive explosion at the Port of Beirut, the third most powerful explosion in the history of the world, shook Lebanon and left the world watching the aftermath in shock.
While folks all over the world began fundraising and collecting donations to ease the plight of the Lebanese people, there was one group left forgotten amid all the chaos: migrant workers.
Migrant workers in Lebanon have always had a difficult plight. There is a long history of abuse and exploitation of migrant workers, and the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has exacerbated this mistreatment and horrible situation after many workers were fired and not able to go back to their home countries. Now, this deadly explosion has left them more vulnerable than ever before.
The mistreatment of migrant workers, specifically Kenyan workers, has been reported on in the past. CNN reported the abuse these workers faced at the hands of Lebanese nationals working in the consulate—the place they visit to seek help.
A video that was posted before the explosion, shows Nigerian workers huddled together in a room pleading to the Nigerian government to save them. “Please, we need your help. We need to go back to our father’s land,” said the woman filming the five minute long video.
Most domestic workers live in Kenya as part of the Kafala system, which is “an inherently abusive migration sponsorship system, which increases their risk of suffering labour exploitation, forced labour and trafficking and leaves them with little prospect of obtaining redress,” as described by Amnesty International.
“The Kefala system allowed them to treat me like a pet or a toy. They could use me, beat me, and discard me when they wanted,” an Ethiopian domestic worker told CNN. Another domestic worker from Côte d’Ivoire told Amnesty International, “I started having suicidal thoughts because of being locked up all the time.”
The Kafala system means that these domestic workers cannot simply resign regardless of their reasoning, even if they are being abused — they would need consent from their employer, who in some scenarios, is the abuser. Lebanese Labour Laws exclude migrant workers as they fall under the Kafala system, leaving them with no safety net or nowhere to turn for justice and help.
Lebanon’s Minister of Labour Lamia Yammine said that she would amend the current Labour Laws to include and extend protection to domestic workers as well.
However, now more than ever before, these workers are being dumped on the streets in an inhumane way with nothing more than a garbage bag to carry their belongings.
This Is Lebanon is a project dedicated to raising awareness about the mistreatment of these migrant workers and demanding their protection. They are the first organization in Lebanon to name and shame the abusers, in hopes that it will deter others from following in their footsteps. Their entire Instagram page is dedicated to telling the stories of migrant workers who have been arrested for speaking out, those who want to go home but are unable to, and more.
The world is silent about the plight of these stranded migrant workers. To be silent is to be complicit, do your part. Raise awareness about this issue, share this article and make donations to organizations like This is Lebanon to help support and free migrant workers stranded in Lebanon.