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News > Lebanon

Ethiopian Domestic Workers Are Dumped on Lebanon’s Streets

  • Domestic workers outside of the Ethiopian embassy in Beirut.

    Domestic workers outside of the Ethiopian embassy in Beirut. | Photo: AFP

Published 25 June 2020

The economic crisis in Lebanon, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, has sparked a distressing phenomenon of predominantly Ethiopian migrant domestic workers being fired and dumped outside their country's consulate in Beirut. 

With the worsening economic situation in Lebanon, dozens of Ethiopian domestic workers were dismissed by their bosses and abandoned in front of the Ethiopian consulate in Beirut.

Millions of Migrant Workers Face Uncertainty Amid COVID-19: ILO

"The scene happens every day," complains Diala Haidar, campaign manager for Amnesty International in Lebanon. Cars stop and dump in front of the Ethiopian embassy in Beirut, the domestic workers whose Lebanese families want to get rid of because of the economic crisis affecting the country.

The hapless foreign workers, with suitcases and sometimes mattresses in tow, have crammed the sidewalk outside the embassy since they can't afford local rents. Going back home is also very difficult. 

"The return ticket to Ethiopia is too expensive for them, and the situation is made even more difficult with coronavirus because the airport is closed," Haidar told France 24.

The homeless migrant workers are told their consulate will help them, but that's not the case. "Some of the women I spoke to weren't even received by the consular staff, who refuse to let them in," Haidar said.

In early June, around 30 abandoned foreign workers were temporarily accommodated by Lebanese authorities in a hotel. "To my knowledge, no other operation has been carried out since then," Haidar said. 

"The only people helping these women are NGOs, the Ethiopian community in Beirut who bring them food, and a few Lebanese people, moved by their plight, who pay for nights in a hotel," he stated.

Amnesty International called on the Lebanese state to respond by providing "housing, food, medical care and all necessary assistance to women migrant workers who have lost their jobs," Haidar highlighted.

Lebanon is often accused of laxity regarding the exploitation of foreign domestic workers, which have long been condemned by human rights associations.

In particular, they are calling for the abolition of the "kafala" system, which allows an employer to become the legal sponsor of its employee in Lebanon, and the latter cannot retire without his permission.

According to Doctors Without Borders, six of the Ethiopian employees who stayed at the front of the consulate in recent weeks have had to be admitted to hospitals for psychiatric problems, some have suffered physical or sexual violence, which has led to harsh criticism of the Kafala.

Currently, some 250,000 migrant workers, often Ethiopian, Filipino, and Sri Lankan, but also Sierra Leonean and Ghanaian, are employed in this system, depriving them of the right to work. Some are paid as little as $ 150 a month.

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