One migrant domestic worker in Lebanon decided to fight the “kafala” system and escape her employers. She took her case to a Lebanese court, and, seven years on, has been rewarded by achieving a measure of justice, a feat that would have seemed impossible to achieve a mere decade ago.
BEIRUT (ILO News) – After witnessing war first-hand during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in July 2006, Jennifer, who wishes to withhold her family name to protect her identity, did not want to renew her contract to work in Lebanon as a migrant domestic worker.
She said she no longer felt safe in Lebanon. And instead of the US$ 200 a month promised her by a Philippine recruitment agency, the family which employed her only payed her US$ 150. In addition, her employers kept a large part, on the understanding she would receive the full amount at the end of her two-year contract.
For many of the migrant domestic workers living and working in Lebanon and elsewhere in the region, employment, working and living conditions promised them in their home countries rarely match reality in the host country. The ILO estimates that there are 600,000 forced labour victims in the Middle East.
“I just wanted to go home,” Jennifer said. She decided that as soon as her contract finished early the following year, she would return home to the Philippines. When she told her employers she did not want to renew her contract, however, they insisted she had to remain.
The majority of migrant domestic workers in the Middle East are bound by the “kafala” system, which ties workers to their employers, restricting the workers’ ability to move freely, terminate their employment contracts or change employers.
“I told them I would to go to the Philippine embassy,” said Jennifer. Even then, they held on to her passport, a common practice in the Middle East, where the “kafeel,” or sponsor, takes all the migrant domestic worker’s identity documents.
“I went anyway. I went out and asked another domestic worker where I could find the embassy. She gave me directions, and I just walked and walked,” said Jennifer, speaking to the ILO by telephone from her hometown of Vintar in the north-western Philippines, where she now works as a teacher.
The Philippine embassy took Jennifer in for two weeks, and arranged for her flight back home. But after many months of arduous work in Lebanon, she was forced to leave without her unpaid wages.
Although this was the end of Jennifer’s ordeal as a migrant domestic worker in Lebanon, it was the start of her long journey to achieving justice through the Lebanese judicial system.