As Thousands of Palestinian Refugees Go Jobless…Amnesty Urges Lebanon to Protect Migrant Workers

As Thousands of Palestinian Refugees Go Jobless…Amnesty Urges Lebanon to Protect Migrant Workers

Employees of a private company spray sanitising liquid around a bank to limit the spread of the coronavirus in the Lebanese capital Beirut [Anwar Amro/AFP]

Amnesty International (AI) has called on Lebanon’s Ministry of Labour to take immediate measures to help protect migrant domestic workers.

In a report issued this week, Amnesty said the Lebanese government must announce a set of immediate measures to protect migrant domestic workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

AI said measures that should be taken include issuing circulars outlining clear penalties against employers who exploit workers. The Ministry of Labour must also establish a complaint mechanism specifically designed for migrant domestic workers, ensure that the Ministry’s hotline for reporting abuse is fully activated, and that migrant domestic workers know about its existence.

It added that authorities must ensure that migrant domestic workers are protected from exploitative working conditions during lockdown, and that all domestic workers - including the undocumented - have access to healthcare during the pandemic.

An estimated 250,000 migrant domestic workers remain trapped under the country’s kafala system, putting their rights and lives at risk during the outbreak, AI’s report further read.

“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,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Regional Director.

“Exploitative working conditions, the threat of violence, and living under lockdown can also have a devasting impact on the mental health of domestic workers, many of whom are far removed from their own homes and families.

“As one of the most marginalized groups in Lebanon, 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.

Examples of abuse and exploitation suffered by domestic migrant workers include being forced to work extreme hours, being denied rest days, having pay withheld or deductions applied, having communications restricted, and being deprived of food.

Amnesty said the Lebanese authorities must ensure that human rights are at the centre of all prevention, containment and treatment efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic, in order to best protect public health. Under the right to health, health care goods, facilities and services should be available and accessible to everyone without discrimination, especially to the most vulnerable or marginalized groups of society.

Thousands of migrant domestic workers who lack work permits, including Palestinian refugees, are either working without authorisation in the country, or are stuck in detention centres awaiting deportation.

Amnesty International’s research has repeatedly shown how migrant domestic workers without identification documents have often found it difficult to access state services, including healthcare. 

Lebanon is home to more than 250,000 migrant domestic workers, including Palestinian refugees. Migrant domestic workers in Lebanon are trapped in a web woven by the kafala system, 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.

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