Labour migration is defined as the movement of persons from one state to another, or within their own country of residence, for the purpose of employment. Employment is one of the primary drivers of contemporary migration. It can involve paid employment or self-employment, and it can occur on a temporary or longer-term basis. As many as 169 million international migrants were either employed or seeking employment in a country of destination, accounting for 62 per cent of international migrants worldwide.

Source: International Organisation for Migration

In theory, the migration of workers from countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and South-East Asia to Lebanon falls under the definition of Labour Migration. However, due to the exclusion of migrant workers from  Lebanese Labour Law and the Kafala’s system being based on restrictive private sponsorship by employers, its practice doesn’t fulfil the international legal standards of protection of migrant workers. The movement towards the abolition of the Kafala system doesn’t imply the prevention of labour migration but rather intends to provide government regulations and oversight according to labour and migration standards of international law. As long as the system continues to exist under its current set-up, it should be considered as state-sponsored labour exploitation enabling modern-day slavery and human trafficking.

According to estimates, more than 25% of people subjected to modern-day slavery are minors. Children are predominantly forced into domestic servitude, sex trafficking and dangerous as well as harmful manual labour. 

Supply needs and industry demand for cheap, unskilled labour are increasing the numbers of children being forced into modern-day slavery. Many of the sectors enabling forced child labour include work requiring physical attributes, such as small stature and agility.

Poverty pushes children into accepting work including their parents asking them to work to supplement the family income. These conditions and circumstances are reinforced by systemic, structural issues such as lack of access to education, inadequate employment opportunities, corruption and social stratification.

Source: End Slavery Now

Although the Kafala system requires MDWs to be over 18 years old, there have been numerous cases of underaged Migrant Workers arriving in Lebanon, therefore being cases of forced child labour/child slavery and child trafficking.

Oftentimes recruitment agencies in sending countries forge legal documents for underaged women to ensure their migration to Lebanon under the Kafala system.

Sex trafficking is a form of forced labour consisting of exploiting a trafficked person for sexual services. Sex trafficking falling under the forced labour definition is characterised by the threat of punishment and for which the person has not offered themselves voluntarily. The UN’s Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (the Palermo Protocol) includes three elements in its definition: the act, the means and the object. Sex trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons who under threat, force, coercion, fraud, deception or abuse of power are sexually exploited for the financial gain of another.

Source: End Slavery Now

Sex work in Lebanon is criminalised under its penal law, which has led to sex trafficking rings taking advantage of undocumented and destitute Migrant Domestic Workers, forcing them into involuntary sex work. 

According to a report by LAU and Egna Legna Besidet, 68% of MDWs in Lebanon have experienced one or several forms of sexual harassment by their employers, their agents or by strangers in public. 

On the occasion of this year’s International Workers’ Day, members of Reclaim Our Rights are sharing their thoughts and appreciation of what Labour Day means to them and how they celebrate it as community leaders, workers’ rights advocates, and survivors of the abusive Kafala system. 


For me, this is my day. Labour Day honours workers and their contribution to society. So this day means a lot to me. Before, it did not have any meaning in my life. However, having worked as a migrant worker, I find this day very important. It shows how far I have come and the struggles I see migrants going through. This is the one day to honour the heroes, and my heroes here [in Lebanon] are the migrants and community leaders who show the truth that the Kafala system is flawed. Despite all the hardships they have been through and still experience, they still stand firm and smile. They still wake up the following day to continue fighting against the injustice under the Kafala system. They are the workers who have been through a lot and are still standing and willing to fight for others. I celebrate them on this day. They are my heroes today and every day after. This is the day I honour them. This is the day in my own quiet time when I say a silent prayer to all the workers all over the world, but especially to those who are trapped under the Kafala system in Lebanon. 


For me, Workers’ Day is about me. It is my day, and I want to reward and clap to myself for all the hard work I do every day for my family, my friends, the family I’m working for, and most especially for my community. It is important to give credit to ourselves for working so hard.


Labour Day is a day to celebrate and reflect on the struggle and the amazing work that we are doing. But we also use this day to acknowledge our suffering. We celebrate this day with joy but also to remember everything that we have been through as migrant domestic workers. Today brings out the best in us because we are able to express ourselves and share our stories with ourselves and the public. We can voice our concerns, the things that we face and the things we want to change. So it is a special day for us, and we celebrate it in a way that reflects on our achievements as migrant workers and the things we want to achieve in the future as community leaders. 


International Workers’ Day is Labour Day.  Labour Day is the day when we remember the contributions and struggles of workers all over the world. It is a day to honour the achievements of the labour movement. Labour Day is the day to recognise the dignity of workers. Labour Day is also to advocate for fair wages. It is a day to advocate for safe working conditions and social justice. It is a day to remember the ongoing fight for equality and the importance of standing in solidarity with other workers. This day is also to remember domestic workers are workers who should be respected and protected under the same labour laws as all workers. 

On International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Reclaim Our Rights Collective shared an Open Letter addressed to the Lebanese media. They express their concern over the perpetuation of racial discrimination by Lebanese news outlets. MWA joins the calls of the ROR collective and recommends that journalists working for Lebanese media stop disseminating content that stigmatises and discriminates against Migrant Workers and adhere to international standards of media ethics.

Migrant Workers’ Action in support of the Reclaim Our Rights Collective celebrates International Women’s Day with the release of ROR’s Manifesto. The Reclaim Our Rights (ROR) Collective is a coalition created and led by Women Migrant Domestic Workers, community leaders, and activists who advocate and campaign for the abolition of the Kafala system and guaranteeing their rights and freedoms as migrant (domestic) workers in Lebanon.

Migrant Workers’ Action has submitted an Input to the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and Girls after a call for submissions by civil society to discuss sexual and gender-based violence in the sex work industry. The Kafala system is enabling sex trafficking and, with it, SGBV against MDWs in Lebanon. Download our briefing to learn more about the issue and read our recommendations to stakeholders and decision-makers.

On the occasion of International Day For the Abolition of Slavery, MWA is launching its report on the plight of Kenyan Migrant Domestic Workers on their migration journey to Lebanon. The report is the first of MWA’s In-Focus research series committed to providing an in-depth understanding of localised contexts and key drivers of migration in sending countries, leading MDWs to travel to Lebanon, as well as their experiences under the Kafala system in Lebanon.

Something changed in me my last few months in Lebanon before returning home. It has been almost three years since I returned to Sierra Leone. I arrived a different person, I have taken my fate into my own hands, I am within my own culture, I am organising among my community, I founded DoWAN*, I am fighting and I am rising up against the injustices I faced under the Kafala System in Lebanon.  

I have shared my story many times, over and over. But there is something missing from the conversation when we talk about human trafficking. Why are women in the position that they are being trafficked to countries like Lebanon? What situation is so bad that we are risking our lives to then live through the injustices of the Kafala system? It is because people are hungry! The severe effects of the climate crisis, droughts, dying crops and food shortages are starving our communities. Seventy percent of the population in Sierra Leone go without their daily bread. The Government falls short in providing any basic provisions and we are trapped in socio-economic instability.

The climate crisis is indirectly causing our daughters, mothers and sisters to leave their loved ones behind and falling victim to human trafficking. Our community often sees poverty as the main reason to leave our country and the main cause of hardships. But poverty is a symptom of the climate crisis. Powerful systems of oppression are causing a multitude of detrimental social, economic, health, food insecurity and other impacts on communities who have contributed the least to the climate crisis.

When we arrive in Lebanon we become victims of abuse, exploitation and marginalisation. Even while living inside of the employers/sponsors’ homes, we as Migrant Domestic Workers are the first people to suffer from the consequences of the climate crisis and the extreme weather caused by it. We are the most vulnerable part of Lebanese society suffering from the weather and climate in a country that isn’t ours.

In Lebanon we are pushed into living conditions, where we are exposed to extreme heat during the summer months, or to extreme cold and dampness during the winter months. Our ‘rooms’… I never slept in a room in Lebanon. My sleeping place was the kitchen in the village and in the living room in the city and are not equipped with appliances providing comfort such as heaters or ACs. We can count ourselves lucky to be given mattresses.

The climate crisis and government corruption impacting the Lebanese who are suffering from electricity and water shortages is unjust. This has a greater impact on migrants particularly Migrant Domestic Workers in Lebanese homes who are prohibited from drinking clean water, denied battery lamps, and denied a safe ventilated place to sleep. We are expected not to complain or ask for improvement of our conditions that come from the extreme weather conditions, we are considered as ungrateful and greedy. Where none of the employers/sponsors would accept the discomfort of the extreme heat or lack of electricity and clean water, we are expected to do so in silence. 

Our advocacy and work as community organizers and as survivors of the Kafala system and human trafficking is always reduced to abuse and we are tokenized as victims in the general discussion surrounding labor migration to the Middle East. 

We are more than just victims or survivors, we are experts based on our lived experience. We have the knowledge of our local context and community in our home countries as well as the reality of living as Migrant Domestic Workers in Lebanon.

The research and discussion around the consequences of the climate crisis and its impact leading to migration and human trafficking need to be more inclusive.  Current and former Migrant Domestic Workers must be actively involved, implementing and engaged in the discussion.

There are still countless women migrating to Lebanon, some of them aware of what awaits them but many also unaware of what is going to happen to their rights and freedoms once they step out of the aeroplane. This is why there is a need to continue fighting. Looking for a solution to our main problems, the climate crisis, poverty and hunger that led us to Lebanon is the best way out of the Kafala. Despite corruption and policies that are restraining our women we see it vital in taking collective affirmative action to build a socio-economic alternative through our ‘Seeding Solidarity’ project to prevent other women from becoming trapped in the Kafala system.

It is in this context of human trafficking and the global threat of climate collapse and food insecurity that we connect to our land and farming practices through agricultural activism and justice.

The real power is within our activism and our work. There is a world of possibilities and solutions. Climate and social justice are rooted in recognising that to tackle modern day slavery and human trafficking we must address the climate crisis to create real change and a more equitable future.

* DoWAN – Domestic Workers Advocacy Network (and Dowan as in Sisterhood in Krio) was established in 2020 as a community-led effort for returnees in their fight against the Kafala system.