Friday, October 17, 2014

Lebanon's migrant workers under pressure

Mazin Sidahmed- AlJazeera

Beirut, Lebanon - Human rights advocates hailed a recent court ruling as a milestone for migrant domestic workers' rights, after a worker successfully sued her employer for the first time in Lebanon.

This summer, a migrant domestic worker from the Philippines sued her employer in Lebanon's Summary Affairs Court to retrieve her passport, which the employer had confiscated, arguing the worker left before the end of their contract. The presiding judge, Jad Maalouf, found the employer had denied the worker's right to freedom of movement, violating Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is incorporated into the Lebanese constitution.

"To our knowledge [this ruling was] the first of its kind [in Lebanon]," said Sarah Wasan, a legal researcher at Legal Agenda, a Beirut-based NGO. In the past, migrant domestic workers have usually been defendants in Lebanese court hearings: A 2010 Human Rights Watch report found this was the case in 74 percent of 114 examined trials.

But while Judge Maalouf's ruling was a key victory, rights groups say significant challenges remain for Lebanon's migrant workers.

Approximately 200,000 migrant domestic workers currently reside in Lebanon, constituting about 5.6 percent of the total population. Mostly from Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Ethiopia, the workers live and work under the kafala system, which leaves migrant workers' legal and visa status in the hands of their in-country sponsors and binds them to their employers.

The kafala system was first introduced at the end of the Lebanese Civil War in 1991. Before the war, most domestic workers in Lebanon were from neighbouring countries, including Palestine, Syria, and Egypt, according to Ray Jureidini, a professor at the Research Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics in Qatar who specialises in labour migration studies.

During the war, agencies began recruiting Sri Lankans to work in Lebanon, eventually leading to the lucrative industry that still thrives today, Jureidini said.

"Employers pay a lot of money to recruitment agencies and if [the worker] doesn't want to work there anymore, then they lose their money … they use this as an excuse, like an insurance policy, to hold their passports so they can't abscond [and] can't leave without breaking the law," Jureidini said.

Migrant workers are explicitly excluded from all existing labour laws in Lebanon, as each law begins with a statement indicating it does not apply to domestic workers. Lebanon is also not a signatory to the International Labour Organisation's (ILO) Decent Work for Domestic Workers convention, or the United Nations International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

Farah Salka, cofounder of the Anti-Racism Movement (ARM) in Lebanon, said the laws that actually dictate this sponsorship system are murky at best and are governed by several different governmental institutions, including the Ministry of Labor and General Security in the Ministry of Interior.

"There's not one document written anywhere that says, 'This is the sponsorship system,'" Salka told Al Jazeera.

The ambiguity of the sponsorship system, combined with the workers' lack of legal status in the country, has created an environment in which migrant workers are vulnerable to an array of human and labour rights abuses. Cases of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse are common, along with a widely accepted practice of locking workers in houses and withholding their passports.

Lucienne, a migrant domestic worker from Madagascar that has lived in Lebanon since 1996, had her passport taken from her when she arrived in the country. After a dispute with her then-sponsor, she located her passport and fled the home. "We are human beings too. Why are [employers] holding my passport? It's written on the passport that we are supposed to hold our own passports," Lucienne, who now has a new sponsor that gives her the freedom to work where she wants, told Al Jazeera. "Hopefully everyone can win [their passports back], God willing … Lebanese people have to change the situation."

Another worrying trend was highlighted last month by Human Rights Watch (HRW), in which a dozen female migrant workers approached NGOs to complain that they were denied residency renewals for themselves and their children. General Security, the agency in Lebanon responsible for residency renewals, confirmed to HRW its new policy was to deny residency renewals for "Lebanon-born children of low-wage migrants and their migrant parents". HRW has since urged Lebanese authorities to revoke the directive, saying it "interferes with the right to family life".

The situation has forced some migrants to leave or stay in the country illegally, meaning their children cannot attend school or easily access healthcare, and they are under constant threat of imprisonment.

A 2010 report by KAFA - a Lebanese NGO focused on gender equality and non-discrimination - examined Lebanese employers' attitude towards migrant domestic workers, and found that 88 percent agreed the employer had the right to keep a worker's passport "in order to prevent her from escaping". Another 31.3 percent admitted to locking domestic workers in their houses, while 80 percent said they would not allow workers to take a day off and leave the premises.

Adel Zebyan, a lawyer at the Legal Affairs Office of the Ministry of Labor in Lebanon, told Al Jazeera that a migrant domestic worker has the "right to hold on to her passport and keep it with her in her room with her other possessions."

But another government official, who is prohibited from speaking to the media, told Al Jazeera: "While officially [confiscating a migrant worker's passport] is not allowed, we usually turn a blind eye to these things".

OPINION: Invisible victims in Lebanon

The only legal protection that migrant domestic workers have in Lebanon is the contract they sign with their sponsor. In 2009, the Lebanese Ministry of Labor, in cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the ILO, created a standard contract for all migrant workers. The move was widely heralded as a step in the right direction for migrant domestic workers, as the standard contract outlined several basic rights, such as receiving full salary payments each month with receipts, and restrictions on the maximum number of work hours per day.

But the contract does not address issues such as withholding passports and employees being locked in houses. The contract is also only offered in Arabic, which most migrant domestic workers cannot read, meaning they often do not know what they are signing.

While the recent court ruling may set a new precedent for future rulings in cases related to Lebanon's migrant workers, Wasan pointed out that the Summary Affairs Court does not have as much influence as higher-rank courts.

Still, "this court verdict can be used by other judges as a precedent", she said. "There is a very new current judiciary who are starting to make a good change in this justice system."

But Salka says the case highlights just how far Lebanon still has to go: "It's really sad to say that in 2014, a historical moment is a judicial ruling related to returning a passport to its owner."

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Celine Rakan case - Press release of the Lebanese Center for Human Rights

Press release of the Lebanese Center for Human Rights (CLDH)

Beirut, October 15, 2014 - CLDH asks the Lebanese authorities to immediately put an end to the arbitrary detention of an Ethiopian woman who has been held in custody for at least 6 days by Beirut Internal Security Forces.

On 4 October 2014, the death of a Lebanese 4-year-old girl, Celine Rakan, was reported by the media and the father of the deceased child claimed that she had died following a vaccination the previous day by her pediatrician.

On 9 October 2014 the media reported the arrest of the family's helper, an Ethiopian domestic worker, who reportedly confessed to the murder and said that she had strangled the girl to death after the latter witnessed her stealing house items.

For at least 6 days, the Ethiopian helper has been detained by the Internal Security Forces in Beirut, investigated without a lawyer and not yet transferred to a judge.

This is in contradiction with the Lebanese law that provides in article 47 of the Criminal Code of Procedure that the custody can not exceed 48 hours renewable once. This is also in contradiction with article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights ratified by Lebanon in 2000

“These severe breaches of the Lebanese and international laws represent violations of the suspect’s rights and will affect the course of the Judiciary and its capacity to reveal the truth into the toddler’s death”, said Wadih Al-Asmar, Secretary General of CLDH.

CLDH holds the Lebanese authorities fully responsible of the physical and psychological integrity of the detained woman and urges them to immediately put an end to her arbitrary detention.

بيان صحفي من المركز اللبناني لحقوق الإنسان

بيروت، 15 تشرين الاول 2014- المركز اللبناني لحقوق الأنسان يسأل السلطات اللبنانية أن تضع حداً فورياٌ للأعتقال التعسفي الممارس بحق الأمرأة الأثيوبية الموقوفة احتياطياُ منذ ستة أيام على الاقل لدى قوى الأمن الداخلي في بيروت

في 4 تشرين الأول عام 2014،انتشر نبأ وفاة الطفلة اللبنانية سيلين ركان البالغة من العمر 4 سنوات ، وقد نقل الخبر من قبل وسائل الإعلام وكما ادعى والد الطفلة المتوفية أنها توفيت بعد التطعيم في اليوم السابق من قبل طبيب الأطفال الخاص بالعائلة

في 9 أكتوبر 2014 تحدثت وسائل الإعلام عن اعتقال مساعدة للأسرة، عاملة المنزل الاثيوبية، التي قيل إنها اعترفت بقتل الطفلة وقيل أنها خنقت الطفلة حتى الموت بعد أن كانت هذه الأخيرة شاهدتها تسرق.

لمدة 6 أيام على الأقل، ما تزال المساعدة الاثيوبية قيد التوقيف الاحتياطي من قبل قوى الأمن الداخلي في بيروت، والتحقيق جارٍ من دون محام ولم يتم بعد نقلها إلى القاضي.

 هذا الوضع يتناقض مع القانون اللبناني الذي ينص في المادة 47 من قانون أصول المحاكمات الجنائية أن التوقيف الاحتياطي لا يمكن أن يتجاوز الحبس 48 ساعة قابلة للتجديد مرة واحدة. كما يتعارض أيضا مع المادة 14 من العهد الدولي الخاص بالحقوق المدنية والسياسية التي صادق عليها لبنان عام 2000.

وقال وديع الأسمر، أمين عام المركز اللبناني "هذه الانتهاكات الخطيرة للقوانين اللبنانية والدولية تمثل انتهاكات حقوق المشتبه بها وسوف تؤثر على مجرى القضاء وقدرته على كشف الحقيقة في وفاة طفل صغير".

إن المركز اللبناني يحمل السلطات اللبنانية المسؤولية الكاملة عن السلامة الجسدية والنفسية للمرأة المحتجزة ويحثها على وضع حد فوري لاعتقالها التعسفي.

Communiqué de presse du Centre Libanais des Droits Humains (CLDH)

Beyrouth, le 15 octobre 2014 – Le CLDH demande aux autorités libanaises de mettre immédiatement un terme à la détention arbitraire d’une femme éthiopienne gardée à vue depuis au moins 6 jours par les Forces de Sécurité Intérieures de Beyrouth.

Le 4 octobre 2014, la mort d’une petite fille de 4 ans, Céline Rakan, a été rapportée par les médias et le père de l’enfant a déclaré que celle-ci était décédée suite à une vaccination administrée la veille par son pédiatre.

Le 9 octobre 2014, les médias ont fait état de l’arrestation de l’employée de maison de la famille, une travailleuse domestique éthiopienne, qui aurait avoué le meurtre et indiqué qu’elle avait étranglé l’enfant après que cette dernière l’a vue voler des affaires de la maison.

Depuis au moins 6 jours, l’employée de maison éthiopienne est détenue par les Forces de Sécurité Intérieures de Beyrouth, interrogée sans avocat et elle n’a toujours pas été présentée à un juge.

Ceci est en contradiction avec la loi libanaise qui prévoit à l’article 47 du Code de Procédure Pénale que la durée de la garde-à-vue ne peut excéder 48h renouvelables une fois. Ceci est aussi en contradiction avec l’article 14 du Pacte International relatif aux droits civils et politiques que le Liban a ratifié en 2000.

“Ces graves violations des lois libanaises et internationales représentent un non-respect des droits de la suspecte et vont affecter négativement le cours de la Justice et la capacité de cette dernière à faire la lumière sur la mort de l’enfant”, a déclaré Wadih Al-Asmar, secrétaire général du CLDH

Le CLDH tient les autorités libanaises entièrement responsables de l’intégrité physique et psychologique de la femme détenue et les appelle à mettre un terme immédiat à sa détention arbitraire.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tom Fletsher

With wonderful Kalkedan, from Ethiopia, at our press conference at InteriorMinistry to promote migrant worker rights. 

 His twitter account

Job-swap redefines Fletcher’s 'domestic' duties

The Daily Star

BEIRUT: UK Ambassador to Lebanon Tom Fletcher "swapped" jobs with an Ethiopian maid Monday in an effort to promote the rights of migrant workers.

“I’m trading places with Kalkedan, from Ethiopia, tomorrow. We want to highlight the rights of foreign domestic workers in Lebanon,” read a post on Fletcher’s Twitter page Sunday.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Oh Lebanon!

Maid, not vaccine, killed Lebanon girl: police 
On Daily Star

BEIRUT: The 4-year-old girl who was thought to have died because of a contaminated vaccine was actually strangled by the family maid, Lebanon's Internal Security Forces said Thursday.

“The [domestic worker] choked [Celine Rakkan] to death out of fear of being exposed by the child for stealing from the household,” the ISF tweeted using its official account.

The Ethiopian domestic worker confessed to killing the girl during an interrogation, police said, adding that she had formally been arrested.

Preliminary investigations had raised questions over the involvement of the domestic worker in the girl's death, Health Minister Wael Abu Faour said earlier Thursday.

Rakkan’s case went viral on social media networks after her father last week after posted on his Facebook page that she died one day after receiving a vaccine, raising speculation about the possibility that she was administered a contaminated drug.

Police earlier this week questioned the doctor who administered the drug.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Anti-Syrian sentiment in Lebanon

Lebanese nationalism has historically been exclusionary - as are all nationalisms - and isolationist, in that it accentuates differences between the Lebanese and other Levantines or other Arabs while downplaying shared attributes and characteristics.

Mahmoud Mroueh on Open Democracy

According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as of September 11, 2014 close to 9.5 million Syrians have been forced to leave their homes since the uprising began in March of 2011. Of those who were forced to move, 6.5 million are internally displaced; the remaining three million left the country as refugees.
Forty percent of those who left Syria (1.2 million people) headed into neighbouring Lebanon. In Lebanon they were met with endemic racism manifesting itself through chauvinistic rhetoric, discrimination, curfews, evacuation notices, and increasingly frequent racial attacks against their person and their livelihood. The Lebanese laud themselves for their sense of hospitality and exceptional generosity, but these claims are now being tested by what has been described as the ‘worst refugee crisis in recent history’, and Lebanon has been failing miserably.
Violence against refugees has been steadily becoming more common and more gruesome, most notably after the conflagration in Arsal‘Revenge’ attacks for the actions of groups like the Islamic State or Jabhat al-Nusra, or for isolated crimes by Syrian individuals, that target refugees, their homes, and their property are becoming increasingly frequent. It is worth noting that the Islamic State militant responsible for the beheadings of two Lebanese Armed Forces soldiers, an act that spurred a large part of these ‘revenge attacks’ was Lebanese, not Syrian. Reports of refugee camps being set alight, drive-by shootings, and attacks against refugees by racist mobs are now a daily feature of Lebanese news broadcasts, and some have begun to (accurately) describe these events as ‘pogroms’.
In addition to these so-called revenge attacks against refugees, some aggressions seem to be carried out for sport. The dehumanisation of the Syrian refugee in the minds of most Lebanese has resulted in acts of immeasurable cruelty. Two particular incidents made headlines after videos taken by the perpetrators spread on social media. The first video showed Lebanese parents prodding their toddler to beat a cowering Syrian child with a wooden stick. The second video shows a knife-wielding Lebanese man threatening to behead three sobbing Syrian children, while accusing them of belonging to the Islamic State.
Drawing upon these two incidents one can conceptualise the nature of the disease that ails Lebanese society, of which these are only two of many symptoms. In addition to that, a depressing study carried out by Dr. Charles Harb and Dr. Reem Saab of the American University of Beirut showed high levels of explicit support for violence against Syrian refugees among the local Lebanese populations in Akkar and the Bekaa valley. 
In addition to collective punishment, misdirected rage, and dehumanisation, these attacks are also motivated by the widely held belief that Syrian refugees are largely responsible for most of Lebanon’s ailments. The Lebanese have traditionally been masters at projecting and diverting blame onto others. Syrian refugees are being scapegoated for a plethora of issues including, but not limited to, electricity and water shortages, the uptick in crime, traffic jams and accidents, inflation, and terrorist attacks.
A few days ago the owner of a bakery by my house in Beirut lectured me on how splendid life in Lebanon was before Syrian refugees. “We were all living in plenty, no one was unhappy. Do you remember those days?” Not only does this amnesiac rhetoric blame Syrian refugees for Lebanon’s current predicaments, it also creates and invokes a fictional (not-so-distant) past that isn’t even remotely rooted in reality. Living conditions in Lebanon have been terrible for decades. As would be expected, Lebanon’s nefarious politicians and government officials are taking advantage of the situation by blaming their shortcomings (and the effects of their corruption) on Syrian refugees.
What’s most worrying about this upsurge in violence against Syrian nationals is how it is being normalised. Racially motivated attacks receive almost no condemnation from government officials or the public. Instead, many will explicitly express their approval. A number of Lebanese politicians and government officials have made thinly veiled racist statements regarding Syrian refugees. Member of parliament for the Kataeb Party Samy Gemayel told parliament that “the Lebanese Army is capable of closing down and controlling our borders, all the army needs is 10-20 drones”. He continued to say, “Lebanon is bleeding, the refugees are bleeding, Lebanon is getting destroyed, its [sectarian and national] identity is changing, as is its nature”. He concluded his remarks on Syrian refugees by saying, “Syrian refugees are responsible for 50% of all crimes committed on Lebanese soil”.
Then Minister of Energy (now Minister of Foreign Affairs) and MP for the Free Patriotic Movement Gibran Bassil, made a similar point in 2013 when he saidof the influx of Syrian refugees, "what is happening is organised crime carried out by Lebanese and foreign officials to change the country's demography". This fixation on sectarian and demographic balance and on national identity has been a feature of right-wing rhetoric since before the Lebanese Civil War, when it was directed against Palestinian, rather than Syrian refugees.
Racism against Syrian nationals in Lebanon cannot be understood outside of its historic and economic context. The proliferation of anti-Syrian sentiment in Lebanese society already was a cause for concern and condemnation well before the beginning of the Syrian uprising and the subsequent influx of refugees. For decades, the demonym ‘Syrian’ has been employed to insult, denoting vulgarity, low social and economic status, bad taste, poor hygiene, etc… Racially motivated attacks against Syrian nationals aren’t without precedent either. In 2005, Syrian workers in Lebanon were the victims of (often fatal) attacks motivated by the suspected culpability of the Syrian government in former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic al-Hariri’s assassination.
It is imperative to expound the underlying class dynamics of Lebanese racism against Syrian refugees as this racism is fundamentally and typically classist. Syrian migrant workers have dominated construction and other labour-intensive sectors of the Lebanese economy since colonial times. Syrian workers can be credited with building Lebanon, before and after the Lebanese Civil War.
Before the Syrian uprising began in 2011, an estimated 300,000 Syrian migrants worked in Lebanon. ‘Syrian’ came to signify an unskilled, uneducated labourer in the Lebanese psyche, as the vast majority of Syrians with which the Lebanese regularly interacted were of the working class (an excellent read on this topic here). The massive influx of refugees into Lebanon with the start of the Syrian uprising simultaneously challenged, but to a greater extent reinforced, this bigoted and classist notion of the Syrian people. Not all those who fled Syria for Lebanon are impoverished, but many are, and they are considerably more visible than those who are not (on the streets, in refugee camps) and their presence helped solidify previously mentioned notions of race and class held by the Lebanese.
On the other hand, affluent Syrians who fled the war back home into Lebanon have been frequenting the country’s top restaurants, clubs, and other social venues. Their interactions with similarly wealthy Lebanese have led some to abandon their preconceived notions, but not entirely. Well-off and wealthy Syrians are perceived as entirely distinct from lower middle class and working class Syrians, as if the two hail from different parts of the planet. Rather than perceive well-off Syrians as Syrian and abandoning their generalisations in the process, the Lebanese bourgeoisie, vindicating Marx, resorted to sundering the Syrian people into two distinct and oppositional groups along economic lines. Upper class and upper middle class Syrians constantly hear statements (and I myself have been privy to these conversations dozens of times) of the “but you’re not Syrian Syrian”, or “I know you’re Syrian but you’re different” variety. Needless to say, the vast majority (if not all) racially motivated attacks against Syrian nationals in Lebanon have targeted lower middle class or working class Syrian refugees.
Of course not all racism against Syrian nationals and Syrian refugees is rooted in class. A tiny part stems from archaic notions of Lebanese exceptionalism, rooted in different forms of (sometimes violent) Lebanese nationalism that is antithetical to pan-Arabism or even the Arab label. Lebanese nationalism has historically been exclusionary - as are all nationalisms - and isolationist, in that it accentuates differences between the Lebanese and other Levantines or other Arabs while downplaying shared attributes and characteristics, and it is an unfortunate fact of our time that basic human empathy and solidarity is strongly dependent upon notions of shared identity. 
Resistance to this widespread racism and racial violence on the part of Lebanese activists has been weak and mostly confined to symbolic gesturesand social media. The Lebanese State is at worst complicit and at best uninterested in putting an end to these attacks and transgressions. Further exacerbation of the situation will inevitably lead to resistance on the part of the refugees themselves, which in the absence of an impartial state is justified in all its forms

Friday, October 3, 2014

كيف ساهمت الدولة اللبنانية في تحفيز العنف ضد اللاجئين السوريين؟

"إكراما لاخوتنا (علي السيد وعباس مدلج) يطلب من جميع السوريين وبدون اي استثناءات مغادرة هذا الشارع بمهلة أقصاها الخامس من عشر من الشهر الجاري وقد اعذر من أنذر- شباب حي الرضوان"، "نرجو من جميع السوريين مغادرة المنطقة كحد اقصى مهلة 48 ساعة (...) وإلا سياخذ إجراء الذبح والتعذيب حتى الموت، لجنة زقاق البلاط". هي مناشير وزعت خلال الايام المنصرمة، بعد إنتشار خبر مقتل جندي ثان من الجيش اللبناني على يد خاطفيه في ما يسمى تنظيم "داعش".

هذه الممارسات ليست وليدة "عنصرية فطرية أو عادية"[1] عند اللبنانيين، بل هي نتيجة سياسة اتبعتها الدولة اللبنانية منذ بداية اللجوء السوري عبر انكفائها عن اعتماد سياسات عامة فاعلة في هذا المجال. وبنتيجة ذلك، أجمعت جميع الاطراف اللبنانية في خطاباتها من جهة، على التهويل والمبالغة من خطورة اللجوء السوري[2]. من جهة ثانية، تصاعد الخوف والريبة من استفادة عناصر مسلحة من انعدام التنظيم لحالة اللجوء وارتكاب جرائم باسم اللاجئين. ومراجعة مسار هذه القضية، تفيد بأن جهود الدولة اللبنانية بذلت حثيثا لعقد مؤتمرات دولية بغية جمع التبرعات والهبات، فيما اقتصرت الخطوات التنفيذية السياسية على تشكيل خلية وزارية لمتابعة مختلف اوجه موضوع اللجوء السوريين الى لبنان (تراجع مقررات مجلس الوزراء في جلسته المنعقدة في 23 أيار 2014)،تحت مظلة ممارسة الحياد وتأمين العودة ووقف تدفق اللاجئين على ان يبقى دور الدولة مولجا بتأمين الحاجات "الملحة" من خلال "المجتمعات المحلية".

Full piece on Legal Agenda