Elena Fassi, Case worker, MCC Beirut, Lebanon / email@example.com
Video: An exclusive product? #KafalaIsSlavery
This video was posted by the Anti-Racism
Movement to call for participation to the International Domestic Workers' Day
Protest, which took place in Beirut on June 24th 2018. Credits: Ash Wadi.
there are more than 250,000 migrant domestic workers living in Lebanon.
Still, domestic work is not regulated by Lebanese labor law and migrant
domestic workers' lives and labor are governed by a sponsorship system
(in Arabic, kafala).
kafala does not have legal or juridical basis but is a system of
practices organized and implemented by the Lebanese General Security,
which arose from and intertwined with the Lebanese middle class use of a
foreign domestic workforce.
the kafala system, the worker's legal status depends entirely on the
contract with her employer, or sponsor: for the worker, breaking the
contract means losing the right to exist legally on Lebanese soil, but
an employer can break a contract or deport the worker at almost any
time. This deprives the worker of any bargaining power, while giving the
employer the possibility, if not the right, of disposing as they wish
of their employee. Abuse then becomes the norm, to the point that
confiscating the worker's passport and confining her to the house is
common practice. Non-payment of wages, or reducing the amount paid - as
well as physical if not sexual abuse, deprivation of food, and daily
humiliation - are widespread side effects.
employers" are only the last link in a chain of exploiters: the
Lebanese Government silently favors cheap flows of foreign labor, which
fills the workplaces left empty by the local workforce and at the same
time allows Lebanese women to enter the job-market, often forcing
patriarchal logics on the foreigners who took their places in the
of the sending countries, even with their bans that are little more than
formalities, often ignore obvious violations, valuing the remittances
coming from Lebanon more than the wellbeing of those who send them.
between, Lebanese recruitment agencies are free to do as they like,
with low to zero oversight from the Ministry of Labor, commonly
deceiving and abusing workers, trading them from house to house, and
rewarding themselves with the workers' first 3 months of salary.
The implications of the kafala system: once a worker, only a worker
structures and logic of the kafala system imply that the worker is not a
subject with rights, but rather a tool at the employer's disposal. The
worker's existence and permanence in the country is justified only as
long as she/he is productive.
In the case of live-in domestic workers,
the overlap between personal life and work life is complete, with
working hours that can be prolonged indefinitely. Private space is a
luxury for the very few workers that are lucky enough to have decent
sponsors. Even a weekly day off is a contested negotiation and, when it
is not denied, is easily perceived as a generous concession from the
employer and not at all as a basic right.
a domestic worker in Lebanon means spending two, five, ten years of
your life cleaning someone else's house, cooking someone else's food and
raising someone else's children. Search for vocation, personal growth,
professional, and spiritual satisfaction, which are so dear and obvious
rights to most of us, are simply not accessible to domestic workers.
More than this, in a painfully racist atmosphere that the kafala system
contributes to perpetrate, the unspoken, unconscious reaction of many
would be "And why would that be otherwise? Do our maids even feel these needs?"
is a 30 year old Ethiopian woman who spent the last ten years of her
life in Beirut, as a domestic worker in the home of a wealthy Lebanese
family. She cleaned, she cooked, and she took care of the children. She
was told many times by her employers that she had become part of the
family, but when she had to go through a painful medical operation, none
of her "family members" even asked how it went. The very next day, she
was ordered to work as usual.
always wanted to do social work and to invest her energy for positive
change, perhaps to work in a local NGO, or even to start a new one.
Under the kafala system, someone who enters the country as a domestic
worker has very little hope to change her profession: working in any
area that is not domestic work equates to breaking the contract, while
changing visa type implies endless bureaucracy and costs and is close to impossible without leaving the country first.
she looks back, she feels that she did not grow, that she did not
expand her knowledge, nor did she find her talents. She feels that,
under many points of view she stayed the same woman she was when she
first came to Lebanon, just much more tired. She knows that the right to
personal development that should be assured to all people was denied to
her. And she does not wish to anyone to feel the same.
The Anti-Racism Movement and the Migrant Community Centers
Anti-Racism Movement (ARM) is a Lebanese NGO that was founded in 2010
to address racist discrimination and abuse on the social and
institutional level. ARM created Migrant Community Centers (MCCs), in
three major cities.
are safe spaces for migrant workers, with a focus on migrant domestic
workers, where they can meet, organize, launch initiatives, attend free
classes, where they can, in other words, have at least a minimum access
to the right to self-development that is so violently taken from them.
ARM, we believe that the mere existence of the kafala system represents
a violation of human rights and our decency as a society. We believe
that the only solution to this is the simple and complete abolishment of
the kafala system and its replacement with a safer and more just
alternative immigration system that does not allow for treatment of
workers as machines, and does not normalize ownership of people. All
reforms that would not drastically change the status quo would end up
prettifying the kafala system, thus making it more resistant, and more
 Within the kafala system, only live-in domestic worker are regular. Leaving the house of the employer and free-lancing means being illegal in the eye of the General Security. Whenever a domestic worker leaves the house, she is automatically reported (Shakwa el firar, or complaint for escaping) and, if caught, can be easily detained and deported