Filipino workers flock to leave crisis-hit Lebanon
BEIRUT—Hundreds of Filipinos, most of them female domestic workers, flocked to the Philippine Embassy in Lebanon on Thursday to sign up for free repatriation from the crisis-hit country.
“More than 1,000 Filipinos, mostly women with some children in tow, arrived in droves at the Embassy in Beirut to register for free mass repatriation scheduled in February next year,” a statement from the Philippine Embassy said.
An estimated quarter of a million domestic workers live in Lebanon, in conditions that have repeatedly been condemned by their countries of origin and rights groups.
A sponsorship system known as “kafala” leaves maids, nannies and other domestic workers outside the jurisdiction of Lebanon’s labor laws and at the mercy of their employers.
Cases of abuse are reported regularly, with workers unable to even flee because their money and travel documents are held by their employers.
Hailing mostly from the Philippines, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, some of them make as little as $150 a month.
The Lebanese pound’s tumbling value on the blackmarket in recent weeks has led many employers to pay their domestic workers in the local currency.
Meanwhile, other workers have been fired by employers who can no longer afford their services, leaving foreign workers stranded in Lebanon with no income.
The Philippine embassy statement said some workers “have recently lost jobs and income opportunities during these trying times in Lebanon.”
Mohanna Ishak, a lawyer with Kafa, a nongovernmental organization that assists domestic workers, said that Lebanon’s severe economic downturn could lead to more abuses.
“The financial and psychological stress the Lebanese are under risks having repercussions on domestic workers,” she said, adding that their salaries may go unpaid or they could face “more verbal and physical violence.”
Lebanon has been rocked by seven weeks of an unprecedented protests, demanding an end to corruption and the wholesale removal of the current political elite.
The campaign to abolish the kafala system has been widely supported by protesters. –AFP
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