HUMAN RIGHTS : IT IS TIME TO REFORM THE KAFALA SYSTEM !

By now, most of us have seen the short movie by Tony Eli Kanaan (watch here) that aims to campaign against the Kafala system. Though activists have been trying to dismantle the system under which migrant workers operate in Lebanon, system that leaves them no rights, our little country is still very much operating with this inhumane, oppressive system. It is time that we educated our society about human rights…

WHAT IS THE KAFALA SYSTEM ?

The “Kafala system” is a system that started in the 1950s in the Middle East when several countries started hiring foreign workers to accelerate development following the discovery of oil. The system lays down obligations in the treatment and protection of foreign “guests”. It means “to take care of”, in Arabic.

This system is only applicable in : Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, KSA, the UAE, Jordan and Lebanon. Under this system, a migrant worker’s immigration status is legally bound to an individual employer or sponsor (a kafeel) during the contract period. The migrant worker cannot enter the country, transfer employment nor leave the country for any reason without first obtaining explicit written permission from the kafeel.

WHY THE KAFALA SYSTEM MUST END

In short, simply to guarantee justice for migrant domestic workers ! Ironically, though Kafala means “to take care of”, migrant workers in Lebanon, because of such system, are trapped in a web that inherently gives way to abuse, exploitation, forced labor and trafficking. Such system looks very much like modern day slavery and needs to be addressed in order for it to be expanded and translated into substantive legislative and policy measures that will ensure the rights of migrant workers are fully respected.

IN CASE YOU ARE STILL HESITATING…

“Their home is my prison”

It is a fact, much of the Lebanese youth leaves Lebanon to look for jobs outside their own country, in order to have access to better opportunities. Imagine your own child leaving tomorrow, to be able to make a decent leaving he cannot make in his own country. Imagine a bit further: your child has been away for a while now, and you don’t hear from him/her, and start worrying. Then, when you finally hear about him/her, he’s crying over the phone, and telling you that he barely sleeps, work extremely long hours, that he is subject to verbal abuse on a daily basis and that he doesn’t have the liberty to do anything. Imagine your child telling you that he gets hungry and doesn’t get to eat whenever he needs to. How would you feel, as a parent, unable to reach out and protect your offspring? Imagine him/her going through that for years and years, before he can actually come back and visit you.

This is the daily life of migrant workers in Lebanon and the Middle East, and these workers are somebody else children, somebody’s wife or husband, trying to make a decent living. Isn’t time that we thought about it this way ?

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