Trafficking of Migrant Domestic Workers: A Tale of Two Cities


The Institute of Middle East Studies


Human Trafficking has been defined as:
“The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.”[1]

I am of the strong personal opinion that this definition applies to far too many migrant domestic workers living within Lebanon and wider MENA region.

The central issue within Lebanon and many other Middle Eastern countries is that of the ‘sponsorship system’, a system that ‘ties’ migrant domestic workers to their employers. Migrant domestic workers are not protected by Lebanese labor laws and as a result become vulnerable to abuse.
As if this is not bad enough, employers are in fact required, under contractual agreement with the agencies responsible for ‘procuring’ domestic workers, to retain their employees’ passports. This naturally results in a situation whereby migrant domestic workers who escape from abusive situations become automatically criminalized. And if caught, they potentially face additional punishment, rather than protection, at the hands of the Lebanese authorities.
The isolated nature of domestic labour, coupled with the systemic neglect of migrant workers’ rights on such a large scale, is something that should be far more shocking than the individual case of a Saudi princess, though I certainly hope this case continues to heighten awareness about the suffering of many of the world’s most vulnerable.
During the week of the Middle East Conference, the US State Department published their annual and highly respected Trafficking in Persons Report. Lebanon, for the second year in a row, was designated a Tier 2 (Watch List) country.
This essentially means that:
  1. The absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing,
  2. There is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year, including increased investigations, prosecution, and convictions of trafficking crimes, increased assistance to victims, and decreasing evidence of complicity in severe forms of trafficking by government officials, or,
  3. The determination that a country is making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with minimum standards, as based on commitments by the country to take additional steps over the next year.
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