Lebanon says it will ‘abolish kafala,’ activists say new measures come up short

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Lebanon caretaker Labor Minister Lamia Yammine said on Friday that she has issued an order abolishing the country’s kafala system to ensure the rights of migrant and domestic workers are protected.

The kafala, or sponsorship, system ties workers to their employer, and under the system, migrant workers must obtain written permission to transfer employers and leave the country.

The move would allow “this group to obtain all of their contractual rights and benefit from wider social protection,” Yammine wrote in a tweet.

Human Rights Watch researcher Aya Majzoub noted that while the new unified labor contract for migrant workers is a first step, it does not abolish the kafala system.

Reforms to the system have been long sought by activists who say the current system is rife with human rights violations.
In March, activists and government officials, among others, met in Beirut to discuss reforms to the system.

More recently, the system has come under pressure as the country descends steadily into economic collapse and families who can no longer afford to support their live-in workers have thrown them out on the streets, often not returning their passports, leaving them stranded. Dozens of women have been dumped outside the Ethiopian embassy in Beirut.

Read more: Thrown out, domestic workers in Lebanon look for a way back to Ethiopia

There are approximately 250,000 migrant domestic workers in Lebanon, according to Human Rights Watch.

“Their status in the country is regulated by the kafala system – a restrictive immigration regime of laws, regulations, and customary practices – that ties migrant workers’ legal residency to their employer. Workers cannot leave or change employers without their employers’ consent, placing them at risk of exploitation and abuse,” read a Human Rights Watch report from July on the kafala system in Lebanon.

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Coronavirus traps migrant workers in Lebanon as economy fails

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