Lebanon: The ongoing plight of Lebanon's domestic workers
Beirut Much like data for its native population, Lebanon underestimates both the numbers of Palestinian and Syrian refugees and, in the most ironic of all cases, it also purposefully undercounts domestic laborers. The presence of approximately 750,000 expatriate laborers has created a Pandora’s box for the Lebanese as most domestic workers struggle with work permit issues and, when those were secured, with violence.
Overwhelmed, the labor and interior ministries barely cope with legal pressures, now significantly burdened with the regulation of nearly 2 million Syrian refugees that, for the most part, suffocate the bureaucracy.
For complex political reasons, Beirut cannot afford to properly count anyone, though conservative estimates must all be doubled if one is to begin to grasp why the existing infrastructure is crumbling. Officially, Lebanon hosted approximately 200,000 Asian and African predominantly female domestic workers from Ethiopia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal, among others, in 2011.
In reality, the numbers of live-in maids is much higher, as many homes have one or two such workers. Most were brought in by labor agencies under the sponsorship or “kafala” system, though little about the actual recruitment process was transparent and, even worse, Beirut’s strict labor rules, were rarely respected.
Lebanon has been criticised for its poor standards for protecting its domestic labor and also for selectively implementing a ban on recruiting maids from specific countries. The unfortunate reality is that many Lebanese look down on Africans and Asians. For example, beach resort employees often forbid maids to accompany families at the beach and in the absense of law enforcement, such racist policies become common place.
Many domestic workers also face sexual exploitation from their employers with many committing suicide as a result. Even the recruitment process itself is often laced with corruption including bribing officials and paying middlemen for various services.
Authorities almost always side with the employer against the worker if any cases are brought to dispute. Arrests and deportations are routine and though law-abiding citizens—there are still a few—do their utmost to regularize their workers, the process can truly be burdensome.
Not only does it cost a bundle to seek work permits and residency papers, but one faces the prospect of dealing with an overwhelmed bureaucracy that is seldom motivated by a sense of urgency, which only adds to the levels of frustration and stress. Bewildered by far greater priorities, Beirut overlooks such developments, unaware that festering conditions inevitably seal both its reputation and, worse, further erodes its values.
Story Type: News