CHTEA Joins a Global Campaign to Abolish the “Kafala” System in Lebanon

Migrant domestic workers’ lives in Lebanon are getting harder every day. They need action NOW. Lebanon is reeling from an accumulation of unrelenting disasters. A currency crisis, fuel and food shortages, price hikes, electricity outages, the aftermath of a devastating explosion in Beirut last year, and the continuation of a pandemic have plunged the country into a desperate situation that is only made worse for the country’s migrant domestic workers by the kafala system.

Lebanon’s Ministry of Labour must ensure migrant domestic workers are empowered to leave conditions of servitude, particularly during national crises.

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Governed by the kafala sponsorship system that ties workers’ immigration status to their employers, migrant domestic workers in Lebanon are particularly at risk of exploitation and domestic servitude.

Reports from migrant domestic workers in Lebanon speak of depletion or non-payment of wages, withholding of legal documents such as passports, and exploitative labor conditions are widespread.

Earlier this year, we saw how migrant domestic workers were being dumped by their employers outside of their embassies without their owed wages, their passports, or any financial means to return to their countries of origin.

For some, returning without their wages just isn’t an option. Without the financial support their working in Lebanon promised, some women report fearing retaliation from their communities, including the risk of violence and death.

There was deep concern that the law was not providing adequate protection to domestic workers from exploitation. That is why Freedom United and a coalition of organizations (including CHTEA) are calling on Lebanon’s Ministry of Labour in an open letter to issue clear guidance on migrant domestic workers’ rights to payment of wages and retention of legal documents.

We will be sending the letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants asking them to send an urgent appeal to Lebanon’s government to act.

Sign the open letter today and help us reach 10,000 voices for change!

Lucy Turay is founder of the Domestic Worker Advocacy Network and a campaigner working to raise awareness of the dangers of the kafala system facing domestic workers in Lebanon. In her home country of Sierra Leone, she campaigns for greater protections for migrant domestic workers, recalling her own experiences of being a domestic worker in Lebanon.

She explains:

“The situation of slavery is because of the sponsorship system because the person knows they are entitled to … and because of that, most people treat us like slaves. We [experience] much abuse. Not only from Sierra Leone but many other countries, like Ethiopia, Ghana, Saudia Arabia, etc. We don’t want a sponsorship visa, we are advocating for a work visa. We want people to help us to abolish the kafala system.
The active disempowerment of these workers under the kafala system is further compounded by intersectional discrimination against migrant domestic workers. As predominantly migrant women of color, they are subjected to structural racism and consistent dehumanization that allows for the extreme exploitation of migrant domestic workers to thrive.

In their submission to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Freedom United partner organization Anti-Racism Movement Lebanon explain:

“The state [also] turned migrant domestic workers into commodities that can be “imported” at high profit, through a kafala (sponsorship) system […] reinforcing the cultural and societal dependence on and conceptualization of migrant domestic workers as an essential “commodity.”


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