13 Ethiopian women left a shelter run by Caritas on June 22, 2020, reporting some concerning violations of their rights during their stay. Most of the women had been abandoned by their employers at the Ethiopian consulate and were referred to Caritas by the Ministry of Labor which publicly claimed that it would investigate their cases and prosecute the employers who committed violations.
After leaving Caritas Lebanon shelter, the Anti-Racism Movement (ARM) and the Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH) interviewed the workers who reported that they had been confined since June 5 with no explanation or information on their cases or their fate. The workers also reported that they were locked in the shelter all the time, had no access to their mobile phones, and were only given food and a place to sleep. Some of the workers also stated that Caritas Lebanon staff denied them access to their luggage, allowing them to only take their pajamas.
Women also reported that some of the other migrant workers who had been in the shelter for a year waiting for repatriation are struggling with mental health issues and feared they would stay for too long and “be forgotten”. This is also in line with a long-standing and documented practice by Caritas Lebanon of prolonged and arbitrary confinement of migrant workers in its shelters without any legal basis.
Since May 2020, dozens of sponsors have been dropping migrant workers of different nationalities at their consulates, or forcing them to run away and become homeless, rather than paying their wages and buying their return tickets to countries of origin, which is the sponsor’s obligation under their work contract. The Ministry of Labor has only spoken publicly about the first group of 30 Ethiopian women, but has not acted on at least 100 Ethiopians and dozens of women from other nationalities abandoned since.
The Ministry of Labor paid for these 30 women to stay in the Charles Hotel on June 3, did not pay the second night onward, and on June 5 arranged for the women to enter a Caritas shelter. Almost all are live-in domestic workers whose employers forced them to become homeless, owing them months of unpaid wages, and in some cases physically and verbally abused them. They do not know of any actual follow-up on their cases, or of any legal action taken against their employers for violating the work contract.
On June 30, 2020 the new Ethiopian consul has allowed these women to reside in the Embassy’s shelter.
The undersigned organizations call for the following:
1. We request from the Ministry of Labor and relevant Lebanese authorities to take immediate action to protect these women according to the following:
- Ensure that domestic workers abandoned (or rendered homeless) by their employers are provided with adequate shelter where they have freedom of movement and communication, as well as access to legal and mental health support.
- Facilitate the repatriation of the women who are willing to voluntary return to Ethiopia.
- Initiate immediate investigation and prosecution against the employers who have violated the women's work contracts in order to ensure that these women receive their unpaid wages before their departure and guarantee accountability for abuse.
2. We request from the Parliament, the Ministry of Labor and the General Security to amend Article 7 of the Labor Law in order to include domestic workers under its protection and to abolish the Kafala system and all practices that facilitate the exploitation of migrant domestic workers in total impunity. We call for the abolishment of the Kafala system rather than amending it, as it is a system that facilitates human trafficking and violates the rights and dignity of hundreds of thousands of migrant workers in Lebanon.
3. We call on Caritas Lebanon to:
- Refrain from using their shelters as unofficial places of detention and confinement
- To immediately improve residency conditions at their shelters
- Protect the workers sheltered from any ill-treatment or violation of their rights.
- Ensure the workers have freedom of movement and are not locked inside the shelter
- Refrain from confiscating the workers’ mobile phones and other belongings
- Ensure that the workers’ cases are followed up on and that they are fully informed and leading on the resolution of their cases
The Lebanese Center for Human Rights