Al Jazeera’s Zeina Awad speaks to “Jessica”, a Sri Lankan domestic worker, who says she has been physically abused by her employer in Lebanon.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) estimates that some 200,000 domestic workers from Asian and African countries like the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, and Nepal, arrive in Beirut with little idea where they will be employed.
Najla Shahda, of Caritas Lebanon, part of a global humanitarian network, believes that migrant workers go through similar problems throughout the Middle East.
“Agencies are recruiting them in their countries of origin and they are not explaining to them what their rights are and if they run into a problem, they are not telling them how they can communicate with their embassies,” Shahda said.
Employment agencies usually draw up contracts which fall short of existing labour standards and fail to secure migrant workers’ rights.
As a result, advocacy groups say, many end up in abusive situations.
|World’s migrant workers|
The UN estimates that there are 100 million migrant workers in the world.
Of these, 50 per cent are women, and some 70 million are considered “unskilled”.
They send $397bn in remittances back home.
In a 1998 review of human rights abuses around the world, the UN raised alarm that foreign workers in Lebanon had their passports confiscated.
The situation does not appear to have improved since then.
There have been recent reports that many domestic workers in Lebanon endure long hours on the job, no days off, and being locked up inside the house.
Caritas has set up a shelter for domestic workers like “Jessica” who have escaped from their employees.
There they are given legal advice and seen by social workers.
The Lebanese government recently introduced a new standardised contract, which agencies must use when bringing workers from overseas.
Ali Berro, an adviser to the Minister of Labour on issues pertaining to foreign domestic workers, says that employers are now obliged to sign the new contract. He explained that the new contract gives employee the basic rights that are demanded by international labour laws.
Maurizio Bussi of the International Labour Organisation says there is a lack of legislation protecting the rights of workers in Lebanon.
However, he considers the government’s new contract a “first, but very important first step”.