Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Migrant workers


Syrian refugees displace priority to aiding migrant workers

With the number of displaced Syrian refugees now estimated at 1.3 million in Lebanon, the status of other communities in need, such as migrant domestic workers, appears to be suffering.

“Migrant workers are not exactly a top priority at this time, since currently the more pressing issue of Syrian refugees has overwhelmed [the priorities of] donors. We [largely rely on fundraising because] most migrant workers do not have… disposable income to spend on [our educational] classes and activities,” Rana Boukarim, dual program manager of the Anti-Racism Movement (ARM) and Migrant Community Center (MCC) in Lebanon told

(Education minister confirmed that Lebanon will shortly receive aid to educate the refuge Syrian students)

Organizations like MCC, which last month launched a crowd-funding campaign to keep the center in operation, work toward empowering the migrant worker community in Lebanon through social events, workshops and language courses.

For the most part, these activities are free or offered at a very minimal cost to migrant domestic workers.

MCC now says it needs to raise $25,000 to cover the costs of hosting classes, community events, workshops, training sessions, field trips and awareness campaigns.

While MCC receives funding from the Open Society Foundation and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, these donations only serve to meet basic operational costs.

Within the last year, the center has been forced to cut back most of its activities just to remain open. “This is why we have launched the Indiegogo campaign: in the hope that all of MCC’s individual supporters can help ensure it survives and moves forward,” said Boukarim.

As of 2012, studies estimate that the number of Migrant Domestic Workers in Lebanon is between 150,000 and 220,000.

MCC first opened its doors in September of 2011 in Nabaa, but moved to the Gemmayzeh neighborhood of Achrafieh two years later.

With the goal of empowerment, MCC is a center managed by migrant workers for migrant workers.

“The idea was to create a free, open, and safe space where migrant workers could get together, have meetings, talk about instances of abuse, socialize and access information. Basically, they have a support system [here], and a place to go, both of which were sorely lacking [prior to the formation of this center],” Boukarim said.

The migrant community in Lebanon, which is composed predominately of individuals from Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, Nepal, the Philippines, Madagascar and Bangladesh, is subject to the controversial “kafala” (sponsorship) system which restricts workers from moving to a new job before their contracts end unless they obtain their employer’s consent, and is devoid of mechanisms to protect women when they are abused, mistreated or denied fair treatment.

Devoid of basic legal protections and rights, the “kafala” system has been referred to as a form of modern-day slavery.

Most disturbing is the high rate of unnatural death and suicide noted among domestic workers, with at least one death occurring per week, according to a 2008 report by Human Rights Watch.

Beyond offering a place for them to build community ties, MCC is helping migrant workers fight for their rights.

“By contributing to the empowerment of migrant workers and increasing their access to tools, information, resources and online platforms, MCC has supported migrant workers to increasingly join the fight against discrimination and exploitation,” said Boukarim.

“Really, we are grateful for MCC, one migrant worker, Lydia from Kenya, told “Sometimes we go for activities outside and visit places… it’s fun because when you [spend so much time] working [inside], you don’t [normally] get to go to these places.”

Another migrant, Anna from Sri Lanka, said, “Maybe I want to have my birthday or a party; I can come and do [it here].”

“When MCC opened, it was the first time I was invited to a place that said this house is for you,” said Mohammad from Sierra Leone, adding, “I’ve been here for 20 years, and the difference between the [past 17 years] and these last three years [is huge]. For these three years, really, [it’s made me] feel like I have my own home.”

Currently, the center has over 100 registered members, however many more unregistered members benefit from MCC and its activities. At the time of writing, the campaign has received around $3,500 toward its goal. The campaign will continue through March 28.

Those who are unable to contribute financially but still want to help are encouraged to share the campaign via social media and through word of mouth.

A list of items that can be donated is also available here on the campaign page. Additionally, MCC is always looking for new volunteers to teach classes and help plan future events.

Article of posted this March 12, 2015

To donate to the Migrant Community Center’s fundraising campaign, head to the indigogo crowdsourcing website. To learn more about MCC, visit

From an article of Beirut-com

Migrant workers, foreign domestic workers, racism, Arab Spring…

I published several posts on that subject, and an article a couple of months ago (read link in note), and here Robert Fisk offers several cases and eye-witness accounts on racist behaviors in the Arab World. Robert Fisk wrote:

“How many tracts, books, documentaries, speeches and doctoral theses have been written and produced about Islamophobia? How many denunciations have been made against the French Sarkozy, Le Pens, and the Wilders for their anti-immigration (read largely anti-Muslim) policies or down the far darker paths against the plague of this Norway Breivik-style racism?

The problem with all this is that Muslim societies, whittle down to Middle Eastern societies, are allowed to appear squeaky-clean in the face of such trash, and innocent of any racism themselves.

A health warning to all Arab readers of this column: you may not like this week’s rant from yours truly. Because I fear very much that the video of Alem Dechasa‘s, (Ethiopian mother working as house helper in Lebanon), recent torment in Beirut is all too typical of the treatment meted out to foreign domestic workers across the Arab World (there are 200,000 in Lebanon alone).

Many thousands have now seen the footage of 33-year-old Ms Dechasa being abused and humiliated and pushed into a taxi by Ali Mahfouz, the Lebanese agent who brought her to Lebanon as a domestic worker. Ms Dechasa was transported to hospital where she was placed in the psychiatric wing and where, on 14 March, she hanged herself. She was a mother of two and could not stand the thought of being deported back to her native Ethiopia. That may not have been the only reason for her mental agony.

Lebanese women protested in the centre of Beirut, the UN protested, everyone protested. Ali Mahfouz has been formally accused of contributing to her death. But that’s it.

The Syrian revolt, the Bahraini revolution, the Arab Awakening, have simply washed Alem Dechasa’s tragedy out of the news. For example, how many readers know that not long before Ms Dechasa’s death, a Bengali domestic worker was raped by a policeman guarding her at a courthouse in the south Lebanese town of Nabatieh, after she had been caught fleeing an allegedly abusive employer?

As the Lebanese journalist Anne-Marie El-Hage has eloquently written, Ms Dechasa belonged to “those who submit in silence to the injustice of a Lebanese system that ignores their human rights, a system which literally closes its eyes to conditions of hiring and work often close to slavery“. All too true.

How well I recall the Sri Lanka girl who turned up in Commodore Street at the height of the Israeli siege and shelling of West Beirut in 1982, pleading for help and protection. Like tens of thousands of other domestic workers from the sub-continent, her passport had been taken from her the moment she began her work as a domestic “slave” in the city; and her employers had fled abroad to safety – taking the girl’s passport with them so she could not leave herself. She was rescued by a hotel proprietor when he discovered that local taxi drivers were offering her a “bed” in their vehicles in return for sex.

Everyone who lives in Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt or Syria, or particularly the Gulf States, is well aware of this outrage, albeit cloaked in a pious silence by the politicians and prelates and businessmen of these societies.

In Cairo, at a dinner I remarked to the Egyptian hosts on the awful scars on the face of the young woman serving food to us. I was ostracised for the rest of the meal and never invited again.

Arab societies are dependent on servants. About 25% of Lebanese families have a live-in migrant worker, according to Professor Ray Jureidini of the Lebanese American University in Beirut. They are essential not only for the social lives of their employers (housework and caring for children) but for the broader Lebanese economy.

In the Arab Gulf, the treatment of migrant labour, male and female, has long been a scandal. Men from the subcontinent (India, Bangladesh, Philippine, and mainly Pakistan) often live eight to a room in slums – even in the billionaires’ paradise of Kuwait – and are consistently harassed, treated as third-class citizens, and arrested on the meanest of charges.

Saudi Arabia has the habit of chopping off the heads of migrant workers who were accused of assault or murder or drug-running, after trials that bore no relation to international justice.

For example, in 1993, a Christian Filipino woman accused of killing her employer and his family was dragged into a public square in Dammam and forced to kneel on the ground where her executioner pulled her scarf from her head before decapitating her with a sword.

How about this case in United Arab Emirates?

Sithi Farouq, a 19-year old Sri Lanka housemaid, was accused of killing her employer’s four-year-old daughter in 1994. She claimed her employer’s aunt had accidentally killed the girl. On 13 April, 1995, she was led from her prison cell in the United Arab Emirates to stand in a courtyard in a white abaya gown, crying uncontrollably, before a 9-man firing squad. It was her 20th birthday. God’s mercy, enshrined in the first words of the Koran, could not be extended to her, it seems, in her hour of need.





May 2023

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