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Employer assaults migrant worker in Lebanon, igniting debate on kafala system

A video showing a Lebanese man assaulting a foreign worker in a town in Lebanon has gone viral on social media

A video showing a Lebanese man assaulting a foreign worker in a town in Lebanon has gone viral on social media, raising concerns of the lack of foreign workers' rights within the country and prompting activists to double down on their opposition to the infamous kafala system.

In the video clip, the man – who is the employer – can be seen dragging the woman by her hair onto the road and beating her while she screams. The incident took place in the town of Jouret el-Ballout, a predominantly Christian locality in central Lebanon.

Following the circulation of the footage, the man was arrested on judicial orders and the case is currently being investigated, with the testimony of the foreign worker reportedly being listened to and considered.

The mayor of Jouret el-Ballout, Issam Boujaoude, then posted a statement on his Facebook account claiming that the woman arrived at her employer's house before attempting to escape the same night. She was subsequently caught and arrested, and then sent back to the employment office which she was registered with, while the man had his money returned to him.

Boujaoude insisted that the reputation of his town must be preserved and that any attempt to harm it is simply "to garner views." He added that "we are only interested in clarifying the facts without addressing the labour laws and the kafala system, and the reality of the Lebanese employee has become much worse than the foreign worker."

The mayor's statement resulted in a wave of criticism against him, with many deriding him for not questioning the kafala system and for claiming that foreign workers in the country are more privileged than Lebanese nationals in the current and ongoing economic crisis. He removed his post following the backlash.

READ: After Faustina Tay's death, time is up for the kafala system in Lebanon

The incident has resulted in a revival of the debate surrounding the kafala system, which human rights groups and activists condemn as an abusive system which does not adequately protect migrant workers' rights.

Under the system, the worker is sponsored by their employer and is under their authority, without having access to their own passport, freedom of movement and right to leave the country. The system, coupled with the overall lack of legal protection, often results in abuse and exploitation of the workers by the employers.

In September 2020, Lebanon's caretaker government had announced plans to replace the kafala system with a new set of standard labour laws for foreign workers which would have protected their rights. A month later, however, a Lebanese court suspended those plans after the recruitment agency federation appealed against the change.

In a report published by Human Rights Watch (HRW) this week, it cited one of the main reasons for the failure to abolish the system being "that it is a lucrative business for many involved: one study found that the kafala system generates more than 100 million US dollars annually. Recruitment agencies … forced labour and human trafficking generate 57.5 million US dollars a year in revenue".

It stated that the system and lack of foreign workers' rights "violate human rights treaties and labour conventions that Lebanon has signed, including those abolishing forced labour. They also violate the principle of non-discrimination, and the right to just and favourable work conditions."

READ: Groups like This is Lebanon are essential for the protection of migrant domestic workers

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