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When a devastating explosion rocked Beirut last August, it killed more than 200 people and left 300,000 homeless. Seven months later, many people in Lebanon continue to grapple with the impacts of the blast - especially migrant workers.
Life as a migrant worker in Beirut
Migrant workers are one of the most vulnerable groups in Lebanon, living against a backdrop of multiple crises. The Lebanese economy is collapsing, there’s an ongoing political crisis and cases of Covid-19 are rapidly increasing, worsening the economy and exposing the inadequacies of Lebanon's health and social welfare systems.
While the entire Lebanese population has been affected by these events, there are protective mechanisms in place for the majority of them and for refugees – giving them access to support such as healthcare, shelter and humanitarian assistance. Migrants, however, are frequently denied access to these.
This video is the first of a three-part series where migrant workers in Lebanon highlight their experiences.
Migrant workers from several countries come to Lebanon within the kafala, a sponsorship system that hands over protection of each worker to their kafeel (sponsor). Kafeels dictate the salary, leave, days off and working conditions of the migrant workers under their control – meaning many workers are left without basic protection, including minimum wage or the right to a day off each week. Migrant workers who escape this system lose their residency and their right to gainful employment, and fall through all gaps, becoming unprotected with increased vulnerabilities to poverty, homelessness and exploitation.
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimates that there are 400,000 migrant workers across Lebanon, from multiple countries including Philippines, Sudan, Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Sierra Leone. Some are officially brought to the country, while others are trafficked.
The aftermath of the blast
At least 24,600 migrant workers were affected by the Beirut blast, including at least 15 who were killed, and 150 who were seriously injured. Sadly, unofficial estimates for migrant victims of the blast are double the official ones. Many friends and family members overseas are still waiting for clarity on the fate of their loved ones.
Many migrant workers lost their homes, as shared accommodations and temporary shelters were damaged or destroyed, while others lost belongings, passports and money. Despite national policies guaranteeing healthcare to anyone affected by the blast, 41.6% of migrant workers reported not having access to healthcare after the explosion.
Seven months later, migrant workers continue to live with the ever-growing uncertainty about what the future holds, and severe psychological distress caused by the trauma of losing friends, shelter and security.
An IOM survey after the blast found that 74% of migrant workers in Lebanon wished to return home in the coming three months. Yet many face significant barriers to repatriation, including high costs of travel, irregular residency status and general security restrictions, leaving them trapped in Lebanon without safe shelter or a sustainable livelihood.
What we’re doing
Concern is committed to a world where everyone is treated with dignity and respect. That’s why our team in Lebanon is helping to raise awareness of migrant issues and increase support to them. In addition, we’re collaborating with NGOs working to ensure repatriation and reintegration of migrants into their countries of origin for those who wish to return home.
We’re building relationships with a network of grassroots organisations and migrant-led initiatives in Beirut, with the aim of strengthening their capacity and helping connect migrant workers with the services they need, including healthcare and counselling services.
Concern is also assisting homeless migrant workers with shelter and protection to cope with their situation while they are looking for longer term solutions, which could include repatriation, vocational training, cash assistance or humanitarian volunteering. By highlighting that they are valuable, contributing members of the Beirut community, we hope this initiative will not only help migrant workers to build their technical skills, but also reduce the racist and negative stereotypes that surround them.
Through advocacy and media campaigns in Lebanon and beyond, we hope to raise awareness of the oppressive conditions many migrant workers face and encourage more responsibility among their employers.
All too often, being a migrant means being vulnerable and, during times of crisis, being forgotten and becoming more vulnerable. We won’t allow this to happen.