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.