Beirut assault highlights plight of domestic workers

Lebanon has a long history of complaints alleging the mistreatment and abuse of migrant domestic workers.
Sunday 08/07/2018
Migrant domestic workers from various nationalities demonstrate in the northern suburbs of Beirut to protest against abuses and ask for law protection, on June 24, 2018. (AFP)
Migrant domestic workers from various nationalities demonstrate in the northern suburbs of Beirut to protest against abuses and ask for law protection, on June 24, 2018. (AFP)

TUNIS - A court in Lebanon has ordered the deportation of a Kenyan domestic worker after she and a colleague were filmed being assaulted by multiple people in the streets of a Beirut suburb.

The two women, named only as Rosa and Shamila, were filmed being beaten by a man in the suburb of Bourj Hammoud on June 17. In the video, a crowd can be seen gathering around the women as the man holds her by the hair, before others join in the assault.

As a result of the incident, both Rosa and Shamila appeared in a military court on Wednesday where Lebanon’s directorate of general security issued a deportation order against Shamila. Her lawyer, Mermine Sibai, argued the order was “in violation of her basic human rights of a fair trial and to defend herself in court.” 

The deportation order for Shamila now appears to have been deferred. On Friday afternoon, a spokesman for Lebanon’s directorate of general security said a decision on whether Shamila could stay in the country would be postponed until after the assault case is concluded.

“She will stay with us until the case is finished, and then we will see what will be done,” the spokesman said.

The Kenyan government has demanded an apology for the attack, calling for the culprits to “to meet the full force of the law.”

Likewise, Salim Jreissati, Lebanon’s caretaker justice minister, described the the attack as “shocking” and “abhorrently racist and different from the Lebanon people’s manners.”

Jreissati told reporters that, following the attack, he had asked the general security agency to settle the two women’s residency status. 

The man seen attacking the women in the video, together with a military officer and a Lebanese woman who joined in the beating have also been arrested. No update on their status is currently available.

Lebanon has a long history of complaints alleging the mistreatment and abuse of migrant domestic workers, with some countries such as the Philippines and Ethiopia banning citizens from working in Lebanon.

With labour conditions in some Lebanese homes likened to modern slavery, deaths from botched escapes or suicide are commonplace. According to Lebanon’s general security agency, “migrant domestic workers in Lebanon are dying at a rate of two per week,” IRIN news reported. 

Despite this, many still come to Lebanon hoping for wages that they can send to their families back home. According to Christian Aid, there are currently around 200,000 domestic workers operating in Lebanon, many with little or no legal protection.

Many of those campaigning for better treatment of Lebanon’s domestic workers attribute much of the blame for their mistreatment to the country’s kafala, (sponsorship) system, which ties the workers’ status in the country to their employer, making it almost impossible for them to voluntarily quit any employment.

“It gives employers enormous power over the worker, and opens the door to exploitation and abuse,” Bassem Khawaja, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch told The Guardian.