Two hundred and fifty thousand workers under the Kafala system in Lebanon are currently struggling to survive in an exploitative system. Conflicts within the country due to an economic recession and corruption add to the challenges these workers face.
What is the Kafala System?
The Kafala System is an oppressive system that controls unskilled migrant workers in the Arab states, most of them being women from Africa and South Asia. The system requires each worker to be sponsored by a citizen of the host country. That employer, also known as a kafeel, is responsible for the worker's legal status and visa. When the worker's term finalizes, the employer can either renew it or terminate the worker's status, which requires that the worker be immediately deported. Under this oppressive system, workers are excluded from Lebanese labor laws regulating minimum wage, maximum working hours, vacation, and overtime.
In essence, the Kafala System creates a power dynamic, enabling employers to have complete control over their employees. The workers are not protected by law against basic labor abuses and they are subject to deportation if they speak out about their conditions. If beaten, raped, or starved, the workers have nowhere to go. In practice, they either risk getting deported if they report their conditions to the police or they are ignored. A worker also cannot move without their employer's consent: they are often forced to stay at home through financial limitations, emotional abuse, or physical abuse. Additionally, workers have no say in transactions between one employer and another. The employees are treated as objects, expected to do their work with disregard for their personal conditions. They have no safety barriers and, as a result, are subject to multiple human rights abuses.
The History of the Kafala System
The Kafala System began in the 1950s as a way to control migration into Arab countries. It was intended to be a means by which foreigners could gain short term employment for projects hosted in countries that practice the Kafala System, which include the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Jordan, and Lebanon. It was supposed to be hospitable, named kafala after the word that means "to take care of" in Arabic. The system trusted that the kafeels, sponsors of the workers, would protect them properly.
Before the Lebanese Civil War, which lasted from 1975 to 1990, wealthier Lebanese families would hire poor girls from Lebanon and bordering countries to work for them. This practice created Lebanon's reliance on outside domestic work. Over time, relations with other Arab countries deteriorated and job security decreased. As a result, the Lebanese had to look elsewhere...