Situation of Migrant Workers in Lebanon Working Group

28th session, 16-20 June 2003


Agenda item 5I am Sister Lily George and I speak on behalf of Franciscans International and in my capacity of member of the Pastoral Committee for Afro-Asian Migrants in Lebanon.
Despite its own considerable economic and political difficulties, a confluence of causes has made Lebanon a host country for thousand of migrant workers. Among these are: the much greater poverty of the places where these workers come from, the permeability of the Syro-Lebanese border, the need for upper and middle Lebanese classes to have domestic servants, and the importing agencies’unscrupulous enterprise in finding and exploiting sources of cheap labor. Most of those workers come from India, Sri Lanka, Madagascar, Senegal, Sudan, Ghana, Nigeria and the Philippines and we estimate the figure of Afro-Asian workers up to 200,000.

Among the main problems encountered by these people, the following are of special concern to us:
- Mistreatment and exploitation by the recruitment agencies, which often oblige the workers, once they arrive in Lebanon, to sign a much less favorable contract in terms of salary and working hours than the one that they signed in their home country. Such second contracts must be recognized invalid by the national law. In addition, the agencies usually force the workers to sign an agreement forfeiting their first two or three months salary. Practically, the agency collects as much money as the workers will earn during the whole contract period. As of January, 1, 2003, the Lebanese Ministry of Labor has prohibited this practice. We welcome this decision and we look forward to its immediate implementation.

- Arbitrary mistreatment by the employers. Among the cases that we were able to detect are the following:
o accusation of stealing,
o beating,
o confinement,
o food withheld,
o overwork,
o payment withheld,
o sexual abuse,
o verbal abuse.

- A weak police and justice system. First of all, once the migrant arrives at the airport, he is requested to give his passport to an official who stamps it and, then, hands it to the agent or the employer. Furthermore, migrant workers can easily be accused and kept in custody for long periods, or brought before a court with no translator and legal counsel provided. By detaining a person indefinitely, above the allowed 24 hours, the police usually ends up in obtaining his / her signature on a confession in Arabic of any sort of crime.

- Exploitation by Lebanese or foreign “boyfriends” or “fixers”. A whole group of Lebanese lives off migrant workers taking exorbitant amounts of money to “fix” their papers and using women as prostitutes.

Taking note of the grave difficulties faced by migrant workers in Lebanon, our activities mainly focus on:

- favoring the integration of migrant workers into the Lebanese society by ensuring, for instance, language courses as the majority of them speaks neither Arabic nor English,

- providing them with juridical assistance when they face problems in courts,

- making employers aware about the importance to respect existing legal provisions in signing contracts with migrant workers.

Franciscans International would like to call upon the government of Lebanon:

- to sign and ratify at the earliest the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families,

- to develop skills-training programs in community settings for immigration officials, local official and confessional leaders,

- to carry out campaigns to inform and sensitize the general public on abuses committed against migrant workers as well as strenghten labor inspections and law enforcement policies.
Oral, Written or Summary: 
Meeting Year: 
2003
Meeting: 

wgcfs

Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery
Meeting Name: 
Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery