Beirut, Lebanon – Bangladeshi housemaid Sabrina is only 127 cm (4 feet 2 inches) tall and extremely thin. She looks sick and yet she works long hours at a low salary to earn a living as she shakes the floor of the house where she works and her shoulder blades fall from under her clothes.
Sabrina came to Lebanon more than 10 years ago in search of work. Developing countries, Bangladesh had many faces to feed and very few job opportunities.
Lebanon stopped taking this step. In 1997, the Lebanese currency was linked to the dollar at the rate of 500 1,500 and was used as an exchangeable basis. Sabrina used to earn in dollars, save and send back to the country where her family converted the dollars into Bangladeshi rupees and covered their expenses.
But with the collapse of Lebanon’s economy, Sabrina’s earnings have plummeted. “It’s not at all appropriate to live here before,” he said while describing the impact The economic crisis in Lebanon With the lives of migrant workers like myself.
“Before the economy collapsed, I used to earn $ 5 an hour at the rate of 1,500 per dollar. In a four-hour shift, I bought ,000 30,000 but 20 20, ”Sabrina said.“ Now I get, 600,000 for the shift but that’s only $ -600. ”At the end of the month, he said, there was nothing to send home.
Lebanon has an economy Gradually deteriorating over the years. In 2019, however, the dollar deficit became apparent as the country’s roads became a .n issue.
Packing their bags
The currency has crashed and the official exchange rate against the dollar is still 1, 1,500, but on the black market it traded between 11,000 and 15,000 last month. It lost 80-90 percent of its value, but Sabrina’s staff increased its pay only slightly.
Domestic workers like her are paid at a much lower exchange rate than the market rate and fight to buy basic necessities. They are unable to send any money back to their families in developing countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia and the Philippines. Many are packing their bags and leaving.
Sabrina’s niece and her husband, who worked as a tailor in Beirut, have recently left the country and intend to follow her soon. “They will be better in Dhaka Dhaka,” Sabrina said. “Our son-in-law will try in Saudi and get a job [Arabia]”
The scene of Bangladeshi workers in Qatar outside the Bangladesh embassy in Beirut has become commonplace. Many need the help of the embassy to get the documents to go, as many have lived here illegally, such as Sabrina and her niece, as well as with the help of air money. Thousands of people left last year and many more are planned.
The Ethiopian domestic worker was the first to leave the country. Many were thrown out of the Ethiopian embassy by Lebanese employers without being paid.
Taiba, a 39-year-old Ethiopian worker, has been forced to take refuge in a tent outside the UNHCR’s office since her employer fired her in 1999. He cleared an office and earned 5 275 a month. .
“It wasn’t enough but it was better than anything,” he said. “I have nothing now.”
‘Litani of Blasphemy’
Workers are not being paid their fair share because their employers, the Lebanese, are either unable to access their savings or simply not getting enough money. The country is in multiple crises, and according to the United Nations, more than half of Lebanon’s population is poorer than last year, with 23 percent identified as extremely poor.
Lebanon is among the top two countries in the Middle East for domestic work, originally seen as a low-income profession and associated with a stigma. But some say it’s time to pick the Lebanese broom and clean it up a bit.
Former Lebanese Labor Minister Camille Absalimon says migrant workers may have a chance to come out.
“Our biggest problem is the drain of foreign exchange reserves,” he said. “Foreign workers are sending 2 2 billion to their home countries every year. If it decreases, it helps us.
“It simply came to our notice then. It can take time to change the mindset, but it can happen if the job is restored, ”Absleiman added.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), an estimated 2.5 million migrant domestic workers, mainly from African and Southeast Asian countries, are working in Lebanon. These are controlled by the kafala method, which has been widely described as exploitative. Workers are often victims of emotional, physical and sexual abuse. They are often not paid their wages, are forced to work, and work without extra time off.
In September, the Ministry of Labor adopted a new standard unified agreement for domestic workers that guaranteed overtime pay, sick pay, annual leave and the national minimum wage. Most importantly, it allows workers to leave their jobs without the permission of their employer.
However, the new agreement did not take effect. It is suspended by the Owners Syndicate of Recruitment Agencies and is currently under appeal. “As a result, migrant domestic workers in Lebanon continue to be abused,” said Lama Fakih from HRW.
The Lebanese are also fighting but no one believes that they will leave anything close to what workers like Sabrina endure every day. But the economic crisis has made it useless for many workers to stay in the country.
“Since the value of the local currency does not imply cost-benefit analysis in favor of workers,” Faqih said. “Employers insisted on paying them in local currency at a highly devalued rate – much lower than their agreed wages in dollars – and these workers are choosing to leave.”
Parvinder Singh Gotra is an Indian national who runs a restaurant in Daura – an area on the outskirts of Beirut where most migrant workers live. For the past three months he has been running a soup kitchen for workers who have lost their jobs and delivering packets of staples such as rice, sugar, cooking oil, tea and lentils. He said he was aware of thousands of workers leaving the country.
“Fifty percent of the domestic workers who lived here are gone. Others are leaving, ”said Gotra. “The government is at a loss, the companies are going bankrupt. None of the housekeepers are paying attention here. ”
Even Lebanon has found it difficult to pay their workers well. But Lebanon is in the prayers of many of these working women.
“I still love Lebanon and I have fond memories,” said Tania, an Ethiopian. “I am just sorry to see what is happening to Lebanon and the Lebanese people. I am praying for Lebanon to end the problems that Lebanon is facing. ”
Meanwhile Sabrina has started her paperwork to leave.