Migrant workers in Lebanon rally for their rights

Hundreds of people took to the streets Sunday to demand rights for migrant workers in Lebanon as well as celebrate their cultures and traditions.

The protest was organized by the human rights watchdog, Anti-Racism Movement, with the participation of migrant workers’ communities in Lebanon and several non-governmental organizations.

The parade saw Lebanese residents and expatriates joining in the celebrations with migrant workers from Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, the Philippines, Nepal, Sudan and many other countries as they gathered to dance, sing and chant slogans.

They asked for the abolishment of the sponsorship system in Lebanon that ties the worker to one employer for the tenure of their contract, making it hard to change jobs or be independent.

According to Ghada Jabbour, Head of the Exploitation and Trafficking of Women Unit at KAFA, a Lebanese NGO highly involved in women’s rights and domestic workers issues, and an influential organizer of Sunday’s parade, the demands are clear.

“We want to abolish the sponsorship system that ties the domestic worker to the employer so that he or she can have control over the life and residency of the worker.

We also want migrant domestic workers to work under the Lebanese labor law so they can benefit from all the rights guaranteed by the law such as a decent living, vacations, termination of contract, minimum wage etc.,” she said

From Dora to St. Joseph’s Church in Monnot Street, the protesters marched to the beat of the drummers, chanting and holding banners that read “Workers not slaves” or “The sponsorship systems kills (…)Kill it.”

The protest was held on Sunday, two days ahead of International Workers’ Day, since most migrant workers in Lebanon will only get Sunday off, if they get time off at all.

Diala Haidar, an activist who participated in the event described it as a “success.”

“Migrant workers themselves marched against the sponsorship system (kafala). It means that they are aware of their rights and that they are standing for them which is the pillar for change,” she said.

“The parade also portrayed another side of Lebanese society which has been described as highly racist when it comes to the plight of domestic workers,” Diala added. “This is essential, but not enough to recover from a collective shame.”

“Some people who unfortunately don’t think beyond their homes were meeting and seeing migrant workers for who they truly are, and not just as workers. By parading in the streets, and marching in popular neighborhoods, locals were introduced to the cultures, traditions and histories of every workers’ country.”

Tales of two workers

It wasn’t easy for Rohini Premalata to leave her village in Sri Lanka and her two children, Rasika and Rechil, both very young, but the economic necessity forced her to move to Lebanon, a country she had never visited before, and one whose language she didn’t speak.

It was 19 years ago when someone last called her Rohini. Her new employer, living in a suburb of Beirut, changed her name to that of her last domestic helper because it was easier for her to remember it.

Rohini changed several homes and employers during that first year, before settling in with one family; sometimes having to escape and being prosecuted by the authorities since her passport was in custody of her employer.

Today, she is a grandmother, as both Rechil and Rasika have married and had their own children.

Yet, Rohini cannot return home as she fears her daughter may also have to leave her family and work in a foreign country for financial reasons.

On Sunday, Rohini participated in the migrant workers’ parade and chanted for rights to live in dignity and justice.

”We don’t want much,” she said. ”We just don’t want any problems.”

But not every migrant worker was lucky enough to participate in the parade like Rohini.

Last month, Ethiopian domestic worker Alem Dechasa, also a mother of two, committed suicide after suffering a terrible beating outside her consulate in Lebanon.

Her public mistreatment was recorded on video, and spread widely on television and on the Internet, raising outrage from both human rights organizations and citizens.

“Unfortunately, death cases of migrant workers are quite common,” said Ghada. “There is approximately one case of death per week, most of the cases being registered as suicides.”

In a report released by Human Rights Watch last March, a study conducted by the organization in 2008 found that during the period examined, there had been an average of one death a week due to “unnatural causes among domestic workers in Lebanon, including suicide and falls from tall buildings.”

Al Arabiya

Photo: Sri Lankan migrant workers carry their national flag during a parade in Beirut, to support the rights of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon, ahead of May Day. (Reuters)

  • Hannibal

    Here is an idea for the lazy Lebanese… I hold a very demanding job and just got home, cooked and dined with my kids and washed the dishes… I am back at my desk studying for my 3rd degree… and… I do not have a maid. So get off your lazy ass and do some work and let those people go home. Naa’esna ghoraba ba3ed… Is there any other flag that needs to fly in Lebanon but the Lebanese flag? I mean really? Sri Lankan flag? Iranian? Syrian? Palestinian? What next? what a whore of a country…

    • 5thDrawer

      It is one thing to be a worker with a proper passport and visa in another country.
      It is quite another to have your passport and papers confiscated by the employer, as it puts you into the realm of slavery. The loss of freedom implied in that stupidity is the problem, not if someone’s ego demands a maid and they become an employer – fine in itself if they can afford it.
      The question is about worker’s rights in general. A maid is not a slave, but a worker. As is a butler, or a personal driver, or a child care-giver. What ancient perverted thinking required them to ‘give up’ their own citizenship and proof of it just so they could come to work? What part of a horrible ‘contract’ has been scrambled to take away the rights of the worker?
      Yes, all countries use migrant workers to some degree, but not all demand the theft of their passport to get the job. This really is ludicrous. And if they can’t do the job or hate it, why can’t they go somewhere else to try again? 
      Or …. Hmmm … is that the idea? 
      A prisoner bound slavishly to a position may often see no future … although I suspect some of those ‘high building’ falls were not jumps. Slave-owners always had that ‘right’ too.

      • Hannibal

        Agree… But I am referring to Tom Dick and Harry’s flags… i.e. lack of sovereignty. As far as the rest of it this goes beyond slavery and borders racism.

        • 5thDrawer

          Yah Hannibal … Should have been Union flags there … 😉

      • Hannibal

        Agree… But I am referring to Tom Dick and Harry’s flags… i.e. lack of sovereignty. As far as the rest of it this goes beyond slavery and borders racism.

    • master09

      Most Lebanese are not just lazy, but arrogant and show offs.Have you heard a Lebo talk about themselves. I earn this amount,  I own that and this. They just love to show off even if they have to lie…I earn 100,000 a month, I mean what idiot talks like that in the open..

      • Hannibal

        100,000 a month? in U.S. $? Well if I made that kind of money I will brag too LOL 😛 Well not in the open as someone might kidnap my kids for ransom…

        • 5thDrawer

          That has to be LL .. really … about $70 I think … :-)))

      • MeYosemite

        Reminds back in early 80’s or late 70’s? where they will carry a fake phone in a leather bag and called a cellular, there wasn’t even a cellular service then. I guess taxes concept doesn’t exist in Lebanon as in more money more taxes…. So bragging has no down side to it.

        • 5thDrawer

          Sure can’t brag about the cell (or net) service … even now.  :-)))

    • $21082311

      And do not forget you still find time to get on here and contribute to sectarian dialogues, you’re the Man! By the way I agree with was said about Lebanese laziness and the problem of imported labor in Lebanon. I too do not have a maid nor do I believe in the concept. My comment has to do with other religiously biased comments that are typically made on this forum. 

  • Here is an idea for the lazy Lebanese… I hold a very demanding job and just got home, cooked and dined with my kids and washed the dishes… I am back at my desk studying for my 3rd degree… and… I do not have a maid. So get off your lazy ass and do some work and let those people go home. Naa’esna ghoraba ba3ed… Is there any other flag that needs to fly in Lebanon but the Lebanese flag? I mean really? Sri Lankan flag? Iranian? Syrian? Palestinian? What next? what a whore of a country…

    • 5thDrawer

      It is one thing to be a worker with a proper passport and visa in another country.
      It is quite another to have your passport and papers confiscated by the employer, as it puts you into the realm of slavery. The loss of freedom implied in that stupidity is the problem, not if someone’s ego demands a maid and they become an employer – fine in itself if they can afford it.
      The question is about worker’s rights in general. A maid is not a slave, but a worker. As is a butler, or a personal driver, or a child care-giver. What ancient perverted thinking required them to ‘give up’ their own citizenship and proof of it just so they could come to work? What part of a horrible ‘contract’ has been scrambled to take away the rights of the worker?
      Yes, all countries use migrant workers to some degree, but not all demand the theft of their passport to get the job. This really is ludicrous. And if they can’t do the job or hate it, why can’t they go somewhere else to try again? 
      Or …. Hmmm … is that the idea? 
      A prisoner bound slavishly to a position may often see no future … although I suspect some of those ‘high building’ falls were not jumps. Slave-owners always had that ‘right’ too.

      • Agree… But I am referring to Tom Dick and Harry’s flags… i.e. lack of sovereignty. As far as the rest of it this goes beyond slavery and borders racism.

        • 5thDrawer

          Yah Hannibal … Should have been Union flags there … 😉

    • master09

      Most Lebanese are not just lazy, but arrogant and show offs.Have you heard a Lebo talk about themselves. I earn this amount,  I own that and this. They just love to show off even if they have to lie…I earn 100,000 a month, I mean what idiot talks like that in the open..

      • 100,000 a month? in U.S. $? Well if I made that kind of money I will brag too LOL 😛 Well not in the open as someone might kidnap my kids for ransom…

        • 5thDrawer

          That has to be LL .. really … about $70 I think … :-)))

      • MeYosemite

        Reminds back in early 80’s or late 70’s? where they will carry a fake phone in a leather bag and called a cellular, there wasn’t even a cellular service then. I guess taxes concept doesn’t exist in Lebanon as in more money more taxes…. So bragging has no down side to it.

        • 5thDrawer

          Sure can’t brag about the cell (or net) service … even now.  :-)))

    • Dani38

      And do not forget you still find time to get on here and contribute to sectarian dialogues, you’re the Man! By the way I agree with was said about Lebanese laziness and the problem of imported labor in Lebanon. I too do not have a maid nor do I believe in the concept. My comment has to do with other religiously biased comments that are typically made on this forum.