Lebanon’s economic crisis and the world pandemic have made life much harder for migrant workers in the Mideast country. More than 250,000 foreign migrants work in Lebanon, mainly from the Philippines, Bangladesh and Ethiopia. In the Philippine Embassy’s reception centre, safety rules and rights are not respected. For one Ethiopian activist, “We are invisible.”
Beirut (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The suicide of a Filipino migrant worker in a reception centre, in the Philippine Embassy in Beirut, has cast a new shadow on the conditions of migrants living in Lebanon, a country badly affected by an economic crisis made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.
A Filipino woman died last Sunday after jumping the day before from the window of the room she shared with other female workers. In a statement, the Philippine Embassy announced the opening of an internal investigation to verify the "safety" of residents and "provide assistance where necessary".
According to available information provided by Philippine consular authorities, the victim arrived at the reception facility on Friday. The centre currently hosts 26 people who receive free food, accommodation and assistance needed to be repatriated.
However, Lebanon’s Human Rights Commission found irregularities at the centre, and called on the Philippine Embassy to take adequate steps to "respect the minimum requirements for daily outdoor exercise" and guarantee "adequate psychological support for women residents and the staff.”
After visiting the facility, the Commission noted that it was overcrowded, beyond its capacity, making social distancing impossible to enforce.
Lebanon has about 250,000 foreign workers, mostly from Ethiopia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka, who are brought in under a sponsorship system, known in Arabic as Kafala, which denies them basic rights as workers.
The situation is compounded by Lebanon’s extreme economic and political crisis, aggravated by the war in Syria and the novel coronavirus.
Even before the pandemic, the conditions in which migrant workers lived was awful as reported by human rights groups, subjected to increasing exploitation, low wages, long hours of work, without rights or protection.
COVID-19 has made things worse by negatively impacting wages and lowering consumers’ purchasing power. A few migrants are paid in Lebanese pounds, considerably devalued against the US dollar; others have lost their job and have turned to their embassies and consulates for help.
"We are invisible," said Banchi Yimer, an Ethiopian former domestic worker who founded a group that campaigns for domestic workers' rights in Lebanon. "We don't even exist for our governments, not just the Lebanese government."
In just three days, at least 20 Ethiopian migrants were left by their sponsors outside the Ethiopian Embassy
Against this background, the number of suicide attempts or suspicious deaths among migrants has increased, including that of the Philippine worker who died over the week-end.
Some sponsors abuse their employees physically or psychologically and there is no law to protect them.
For this reason, protests are becoming more frequent. Last week some Ethiopians held a symbolic rally outside their embassy, asking their government to pay for their repatriation.
Recently, Lebanese security forces used force to disperse a protest by Bangladeshi nurses and healthcare workers, who want their wages be indexed to the rate of inflation.