“I just want to go home, that is all I need now.” – anonymous Kenyan migrant domestic worker
As compounding crises in Lebanon persist, migrant domestic workers in Lebanon are desperately trying to leave the country.
Migrant domestic workers report being subjected to abuse by employers, employers withholding wages, and recruitment agencies retaining their passports preventing them from leaving.
As a last resort, a group of around 20 Kenyan domestic workers have been camping outside the Kenyan embassy in Beirut over the last two weeks urging the consulate to support their repatriation. Some workers report waiting months to return home, instructed by the consulate to raise the funds for their plane ticket despite the economic crisis resulting in employers paying dismally low wages.
The Middle East Eye reports:
One of the women told Middle East Eye she had travelled to Lebanon in November 2021, having been promised a salary of $300 by her agents. When she arrived, her employers said they could only afford to pay her $150. The woman (who spoke on condition of anonymity) could not afford to accept the work, knowing it would not be enough to feed her children in Kenya and pay for their school fees.
“I am so stressed. I have people that are depending on me,” she said.
Kafala and modern slavery
Under the kafala system in Lebanon, migrant domestic workers are systematically disempowered from demanding better work conditions. This group of workers is excluded from protections under Lebanon’s labor laws and their immigration status is tied to their employer, increasing their vulnerability to exploitation and domestic servitude.
Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher for Human Rights Watch told the Middle East Eye:
“The abuse that these women are suffering is a direct result of Lebanon’s exploitative and abusive kafala system, which in the worst cases can lead to situations of modern slavery. The Lebanese government, countries of origin, and international humanitarian agencies should ensure that those workers who want to return home can do so.”
Sign the open letter
Freedom United is urgently calling on Lebanon’s Ministry of Labour to end the kafala system and support migrant workers’ requests to return home.