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Lebanon: Migrant domestic workers must be protected, says Amnesty

April 14, 2020 at 12:54 pm

Workers clean the streets as a preventive measure against coronavirus (Covid-19) in Beirut, Lebanon on 16 March 2020 [Hussam Chbaro/Anadolu Agency]

Amnesty International has called on the Lebanese government to implement measures to protect migrant domestic workers throughout the coronavirus pandemic, in a report released today.

The watchdog’s report has called on the Ministries of Labour, Health and the Interior to implement immediate measures to protect the rights of migrant domestic workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

The measures include establishing a framework for domestic workers to report complaints, including a hotline for reporting abuse, ensuring access to healthcare and testing is available to all, even if they are undocumented, and providing health care to migrant workers held in administrative detention.

Lebanon plays host to approximately 250,000 migrant domestic workers, many of whom are trapped under the kafala system – a migration sponsorship scheme which ties a migrant’s legal residency to their employment.

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The system has been widely criticised for leaving workers vulnerable to exploitation with several harrowing cases of abuse, attempted escape and suicide reported in recent months.

“The kafala system has always been a form of imprisonment in the home for migrant domestic workers. While staying at home will help prevent the spread of COVID-19, it increases the risk of exploitation and other forms of abuse suffered by live-in migrant domestic workers at the hands of their employers,” Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Regional Director, Heba Morayef, said.

Exploitative working conditions, the threat of violence and living under lockdown can also have a devastating impact on the mental health of domestic workers… the government needs to clearly warn that it will prosecute employers who exploit or abuse migrant domestic workers. It should also ensure they are granted access to health care during the pandemic.

The watchdog’s report comes weeks after Al Jazeera confirmed that Lebanon’s largest coronavirus treatment centre, the Rafic Hariri University Hospital (RHUH) in Beirut, would turn away undocumented people, provided they are not in need of emergency care.

A source from the hospital said: “We must provide the state with the name of any person who we test, so that if it is positive we can inform both the state and the person. We can’t do that without a name.”

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The policy leaves thousands of migrant domestic workers who are either undocumented or have had their travel documentation seized by their employer, vulnerable because they are unable to get tested for coronavirus.

Meanwhile, Lebanon’s government has attempted to cap testing costs at 150,000 Lira ($50), though this figure, with the added administrative and clinical fees, is prohibitive for many.

According to Amnesty’s report, “in order to best protect public health”, Lebanese authorities should “ensure that human rights are at the centre of all prevention, containment and treatment efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Coronavirus spreading in the Middle East - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Coronavirus spreading in the Middle East – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]