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Lebanon's coronavirus lockdown leaves migrant women penniless and stranded

April 16, 2020 at 10:00 pm

Migrant domestic workers protest for the abolishment of the kafala system in the Lebanese capital Beirut on 5 May 2019 [ANWAR AMRO/AFP/Getty Images]

Domestic worker Kurate only went to Lebanon so she could earn money to support her family in Ethiopia. Now she is stuck there with no work, no income – and no way of getting home to them, Reuters reports.

Since Lebanon closed its borders in one of the world’s strictest coronavirus lockdowns, workers’ rights groups say tens of thousands of migrant women have been left stranded, most of them domestic workers from Ethiopia.

Many, like 32-year-old Kurate, were already struggling even before the coronavirus pandemic because of an economic crisis in Lebanon late last year that left them without work or hit their earnings as the value of the local currency plummeted.

“Most Ethiopians are suffering here. Some of them prostitute themselves in order to survive because there is no job,” said Kurate, who asked to be identified by only her first name.

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“We cannot earn our daily bread,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Lebanon, where she shares a single room with eight other women, covering the rent herself.

Most of Lebanon’s migrant domestic workers are from Ethiopia. There are about 145,000 Ethiopian women registered as migrant workers in Lebanon, though advocacy groups believe many more are there illegally.

Since a financial crisis sparked by a shortage of dollars and mass anti-government protests last year in the country of 6.8 million people, one of the world’s most heavily indebted states, campaigners say that work has been hard to come by.

Even before that crisis, Ethiopian domestic workers earned only about $200 a month in Lebanon.

It is unclear how many have been laid off, but Samuel Tesfaye, a case worker for the Lebanese migrant support group Anti-Racism Movement, said many were not getting paid at all.

Ethiopians who had been planning to leave the country after losing work are now stuck, with borders closed until at least April 26 as part of a month-long coronavirus lockdown, Samuel said.

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