Lebanon is home to over 250,000 migrant domestic workers, who come from African and Asian countries and work in private households. The vast majority of these workers are women. Migrant domestic workers in Lebanon are trapped in a web woven by the kafala system, an inherently abusive migration sponsorship system, which increases their risk of suffering labour exploitation, forced labour and trafficking and leaves them with little prospect of obtaining redress.
All migrant domestic workers are excluded from the Lebanese Labour Law and are governed instead by the kafala system, which ties the legal residency of the worker to the contractual relationship with the employer. If this employment relationship ends, even in cases of abuse, the worker loses regular migration status. Moreover, the worker cannot change their employer without the latter’s permission. This allows the employer to coerce the worker to accept exploitative working conditions. If a migrant domestic worker refuses such conditions and decides to leave the home of the employer without the latter’s consent, the worker risks losing their residency status and consequently detention and deportation.
Amnesty International interviewed 32 women migrant domestic workers in 2018-2019. Their testimonies revealed significant and consistent patterns of abuse. These included employers forcing them to work extreme working hours, denying them rest days, withholding their pay or applying deductions to it, severely restricting their freedom of movement and communication, depriving them of food and proper accommodation, subjecting them to verbal and physical abuse, and denying them health care.
Nineteen of the women interviewed said they were forced by their employers to work more than 10 hours a day and were allowed less than eight continuous hours of rest, while 14 of them said they were denied their weekly day off despite such conditions being breaches of their contract. Among the live-in domestic workers, only five out of the 32 said that they were allowed to keep their passports with them. Ten of the women said their employers did not allow them to leave the home; some even said that their employers went as far as locking them in when they left the home. Many said their employers also controlled who they talked to. Among the live-in domestic workers, only four had their own private rooms.
The majority of women interviewed reported being subjected at least once to humiliating and dehumanizing treatment by their employers and six women reported being subjected to severe physical abuse. Most women interviewed reported that their employers had not provided them with the appropriate medical care when they needed it.
Exploitation and other abuse can have a devasting impact on the mental health of any individual. Amnesty International interviewed six women who either had suicidal thoughts or had attempted suicide as a result of their exploitative living and working conditions, their isolation and the violence to which they were subjected.