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The ordeal of migrant domestic workers: Judicial system also to blame

6-4-2021

In light of the sharp decline in foreign workforce, particularly in the number of migrant women domestic workers (MWDWs), as a result of the financial and economic crisis, combined with the Covid-19 pandemic and the ongoing ill-treatment of MWDW, (https://lkdg.org/ar/node/20188), a study published by the Legal Agenda revealed that judicial work also contributed to the above injustices. A recent report drafted by the Legal Agenda in collaboration with ILO, entitled, “The labyrinth of justice: Migrant domestic workers before Lebanon’s courts” (https://bit.ly/2Op08MJ), examined court decisions and judgments related to MWDWs during 2013-2017 and concluded that the Lebanese Judiciary approach to similar cases is stereotypical and influenced by prejudice. According to the above study, the judiciary system has assumed standardized methods in pronouncing verdicts, using illegal terms or terminology, (such as flee instead of escape, etc), and in conducting investigation, when it viewed the privacy of the worker as potential accusation, and that any action outside the direct employer-worker relationship, including the MWDW’s day-off as a suspicious criminal intent, or when it considers her escapade as a circumstantial evidence for theft. All this without studying the possibility of abuse or ill-treatment by employers against the migrant domestic worker. The study indicated that during the above mentioned period some 693 verdicts were issued in absentia (nearly 91%) against only 68 judgments in presence (9%). The reported reason for this is that the public prosecution delegated regulating the affairs of many MWDWs to the General Security Directorate, which is usually resolved by settling the migrant worker’s conditions in terms of legal papers or the relationship with the employer or by deportation to evade prosecution, or in other words evading the crime. This transgression, the report added, is reinforced by the kafala (sponsorship) system that ties legitimate residency to the work contract. The report in conclusion stressed the need to refer the case of the worker living in Lebanon to the court to ensure her case is heard, before assigning it to the GS to decide whether to deport her or not. This will allow the judiciary to attest the reasons for alleged violations on part of the worker and determine the employer’s stake in causing this violation, directly or indirectly. Meanwhile, Al Akhbar newspaper voiced concern over an increasing rate of abuse against migrant domestic workers with the intensification of the crisis in the country, noting that the papers of some 100,000 MWDWs have been renewed during 2020, against 50,000 workers who have been deported. The reason for this concern, Al Akhbar wrote, is that while work contracts specify the payment should be in US dollars, it is difficult for employers to commit in light of the exacerbating financial crunch. (Al Akhbar, April 5, 202)

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