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No Herd Immunity Without Vaccines for Migrant Workers

Thursday, 18 March, 2021

Help Migrant Workers Access the Vaccine

Whose life matters and whose life is expendable? Who gets to cut the queue and who can be made to wait an indefinite period of time? Whose work is valued and whose labor is erased and made invisible? The rollout of the national vaccination plan can give you some insight into these questions from the eyes of the Lebanese government. The vaccination rollout follows a hierarchy we know too well: politicians over population, money over rights, connections over principle, doctors over all other care workers, Lebanese over non-Lebanese, documented over undocumented, and so on. 

While the Ministry of Labor and the National Vaccination Plan Committee have mentioned the importance of including migrant workers in several meetings, they have yet to devise a plan or take any tangible steps in that direction. ARM sent a letter to the Ministry of Public Health, Ministry of Labor and the National Vaccination Plan Committee calling on them to devise a plan to ensure free access to COVID vaccines for migrant workers in Lebanon, regardless of their residency status.

Including migrant workers in the vaccination plan is a necessity, not just from a rights perspective but also from a public health perspective. ARM estimates that the number of migrant workers in Lebanon ranges between 600,000 and 1 million. Lebanon will not be able to achieve herd immunity without ensuring free and safe access to vaccines for migrant workers who wish to be vaccinated. With the registration rate among the Lebanese population at an alarmingly low level, the government really cannot afford to deny the vaccine to any resident who wishes to take it.

Migrant workers are essential workers too and must be included in the national vaccination plan. Given the absence of affordable elderly care and health care at home, migrant domestic workers are the ones who care for the elderly and the ill, the two categories of people who are most vulnerable to COVID. The vast majority of migrant workers cannot afford to stay at home or miss work opportunities. They come into regular contact with a large number of people, which heightens the risk of exposure to COVID and its transmission, especially within migrant communities.

Government officials have made conflicting statements regarding the eligibility of non-Lebanese people for the vaccine. Some documented migrant workers reported that they were able to register successfully on the government platform, with the help of their employer. Yet for the majority of migrant workers, especially the undocimented ones whose papers and passports are confiscated by employers, it remains unclear whether the same prioritization criteria (occupation, age, and health status) would apply to them in practice.

Regardless of their theoretical eligibility, the reality is that the majority of migrant workers will not be able to register on the government platform, for varying of reasons:

  • No knowledge of current events due to being locked away or having no accessible news in their native language
  • No accessible information about the vaccine in their native language

  • No access to information about the registration platform or the government plan 

  • No valid identification document, which is required on the registration platform

  • Their employer might prevent them from registering

  • Fear of detention or deportation

In a letter sent on 11 March 2021, ARM has called on the government to:

  • Issue clear written information on the eligibility of migrant workers and instructions on how to register in several languages;

  • Create a system that allows undocumented workers to register for the vaccine;

  • Issue a written decision to grant undocumented workers temporary amnesty and  guarantee that they would not be fined, arrested, or deported, as a result of registering for the vaccine;

  • Ensure that migrant workers would access the vaccine for free.

We need your help to make sure that all migrant workers can access the vaccine:

  • Help us keep this issue on the government’s agenda by Tweeting our demands at MoL, MoPH, Lamia Yammine, Dr. Hamad Hassan, Dr. Bizri and other politicians and tell them why migrant workers must have access to the vaccine;

  • If you are in contact with a migrant worker who has valid identification papers, inform her about the vaccine and share resources with her. If she wishes to take the vaccine, help her register on the platform;

  • Translate and share resources about the vaccine to counter the myths and fake news that might discourage people from registering, including migrant workers;

  • Send the text below to your coworkers, friends and family members who employ migrant domestic workers to remind them of the importance of registering the worker on the vaccine platform:

If you employ a migrant worker or a migrant domestic worker, it is crucial that you help them register for the vaccine given the extreme necessity to reach her immunity and given that they are more likely to be exposed to Covid-19 due to the nature of their work. You can do that by giving updates to the worker, explaining the process to receive the vaccine, as well as clarifying misinformation around the vaccines. You can also reach out to organizations working with migrant workers if you would like support and further resources.

Illustration by Sandy Lyen