There is a lot we have in common as human beings. Everyone enjoys the feeling of returning to a clean home. We also want to make sure our children are safe and elderly parents and any sick people in the family are well cared for.
Among the 400,000 migrant workers in Lebanon, the majority performs domestic work, a huge number of “helping hands” compared to other countries. These helpers contribute to the family life through the good and the difficult times and in doing so to Lebanon itself. Today is International Migrants Day and an opportunity to remember this.
The accumulation of crises Lebanon is going through is challenging for most people. Migrant workers excluded from the Labour law are one of the most vulnerable groups. Images of the migrant domestic workers sleeping in the streets of Beirut, at times with very young children, have been widely circulated. With no salary, delayed or irregular pay and often no documents, many migrant domestic workers are stuck and the risks of abuse, exploitation and trafficking increase.
Lebanon has historically always been a country of emigration. Lebanese migrant workers have established themselves all over the world finding employment abroad. The remittances they send to Lebanon have been crucial lifeline support for many homes. Against this backdrop, the abuse of migrant workers living and working in Lebanon is difficult to understand.
The European Union supports an inclusive society where everyone can contribute but also where everyone is protected and people can live in dignity. Everyone's dignity and safety at work should be respected. This should not be left to private citizens. It is the role of the Government and the State to set minimum standards, which need to be respected by all. We call for the end of the kafala system and for full respect of the rights of migrant workers. All workers regardless of their jobs should have the freedom to choose to leave, change jobs and employer. We stand ready to engage with all those involved to make this happen.
The European Union supports the adoption of a new Standard Unified Contract as a step in the right direction. We regret the length of time this is taking. Of course the State would have to ensure that this and any new law is also respected and enforced. Perpetrators of all forms of abuse towards migrant workers should be held to account in front of the law. Eventually, domestic migrant workers should enjoy the same rights any employee in Lebanon is entitled to. Ensuring the inclusion of migrant workers into the Labour Law is essential.
The State should also ensure that it does not contribute inadvertently to the plight of migrant domestic workers. The practice of detention of migrant workers on the grounds of lack of legal residency or expired work permits should be revisited. In the currently particularly difficult economic circumstances in Lebanon, waiving exit fees and penalties to enable migrant workers to return voluntarily to their own countries if they wish to do so should be considered.
Christmas is approaching and in this season more than ever many Lebanese migrant workers all over the world will be thinking of and missing their loved ones back “home” in Lebanon. The many migrant domestic workers in Lebanon will share the same feeling as well. There is much more that connects us than separates us as human beings. We share the same humanity. We are one human family.
Ambassador of the European Union to Lebanon