The term Kafala means ‘Sponsorship’ in Arabic. The Kafala system is a sponsorship system for migrant workers in Lebanon, as well as several other Arab countries, which governs migrant workers’ immigration, employment, residency and personal status in the country.

The responsibility for all matters relating to the MDWs falls under the purview of the sponsors, who are also the employers of the MDWs. The sponsors/employers have unchecked power over the MDWs’ lives in regards to their legal status, employment, health care, accommodation and private lives. This essentially gives impunity to employers to confiscate their passports, overwork them, deny their wages, deprive them of food and reasonable sleeping conditions and inflict physical and sexual abuse. In addition, the Kafala system does not allow for workers to change jobs or leave the country without the employers’ consent. 

In short, the Kafala system is an exploitative system that gives employers tremendous and often-abused power over migrant women who work, sleep and eat in the homes of these same employers.

In many cases, the Kafala system enables or promotes the practice of one if not most of the previously mentioned international legal concepts, including human trafficking, modern-day slavery, debt bondage and domestic servitude. 

It is clear that the Kafala system is not justifiable under international human rights law and the governments of Lebanon and other Arab countries applying it as an immigration system for cheap labour should be held responsible. The international community should encourage these governments to abolish the Kafala system completely and replace it with a fair and just immigration and labour system based on international human rights law and international labour standards.