Human trafficking is defined in the UN’s Palermo Protocol on Trafficking, as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of people through force, fraud, coercion or deception, with the aim of exploiting them for profit. Men, women and children of all ages and from all backgrounds can become victims of this crime, which occurs in every region of the world. 
Traffickers often use violence or fraudulent employment agencies and fake promises of education and job opportunities to trick and coerce their victims.

People don’t have to be transported across borders for trafficking to take place. Trafficking is defined by the movement of a person, and this can happen within a single country or even within a single community.

Source: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

Lebanon’s Kafala system, and particularly its network of recruitment agencies, both in Lebanon and in sending countries, have repeatedly used methods of deception and coercion to traffick women into the country.  Promises of high salaries, good working conditions and benefits have led MDWs to agree to work in Lebanon. However, civil society organisations and community organisations have documented many cases of migrant workers being falsely promised jobs in completely different sectors and positions, such as healthcare, education and private businesses. In many countries, recruitment agencies present the women with fake work contracts, with deceiving provisions, which have no legal standing against the contract they sign upon arrival in Lebanon.

Modern slavery as a concept or crime is not defined in international law. It is used as an umbrella term that includes various legal concepts. At its core, it refers to situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, and/or abuse of power.

Whether tricked, coerced, or forced, a person subjected to modern-day slavery loses their freedom. This includes but is not limited to human trafficking, forced labour and debt bondage.

Source: Anti-Slavery International

The Kafala system fuels modern-day slavery. There have been numerous reports and testimonies of Migrant Domestic Workers in Lebanon being forced into working for households under exploitative conditions. Many Migrant Domestic Workers have been unable to leave their abusive workplace due to threats or involuntary imprisonment. Countless testimonies have confirmed that recruitment agencies in their country of origin have used deception and fraudulent practices to lure women into signing work contracts to travel to Lebanon unaware of the real circumstances of their employment and living arrangements.

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.

I am a Filipina Migrant Worker, who has been here in Lebanon since 2004. I am a victim of human trafficking under the Kafala System since I was deceived by a recruitment agency in the Philippines. I was contracted to be a private nurse for a Lebanese family but ended up doing domestic work instead. I have been through the worst and most degrading abuse a migrant worker in Lebanon could experience. This experience was the trigger point that made me become a community leader and organiser, dedicated to work for and with my community. I chose to organise my fellow Filipino Migrant Workers, so I can help them to know their rights, as well as when and how to fight for them. I am raising awareness and making them understand that we came here not to be slaves, but to work decently and with dignity and pride.

The year 2020 saw big challenges for the whole world but especially for Lebanon, when the Covid-19 pandemic arrived, the economic collapse escalated and the Beirut Port explosion happened, the Migrant Worker Communities in Lebanon were greatly affected. 

Racism was always around us.

The economic crisis has shown the true exploitation of domestic workers in Lebanon. No ‘habibti enti’ or ‘you are part of our family’, will make up for the fact that the employers won’t pay us fair wages, support us in critical times of need or allow us to have rights and protection.

So as a community leader I saw the need for help and to find solutions to the present problems.

I started fundraising for the Food Relief Project that me and my group started. We provided medical assistance to Migrant Workers suffering from Covid-19. 

At present, my group is giving livelihood skills training to Migrant Domestic Workers in Lebanon to support them towards economic sustainability, both here in Lebanon and in their own country once they return. We believe that no Migrant Worker, who has left her country to work for a better future for her family, deserves to go hungry or die in a foreign country.

A. M. – Philippina Migrant Domestic Worker

*Disclaimer: For the purpose of the author’s safety and privacy, her name was replaced by initials.