Lebanon provides shelter to 35 homeless Ethiopian migrants


Beirut (AFP)

Lebanon has provided temporary shelter for 35 homeless Ethiopian domestic workers who had camped outside their consulate after being abandoned by employers hit by the country's worsening economic crisis, the labour ministry said Thursday.

"We provided this shelter to get them off the street and we are now in touch with international agencies and the Ethiopian consulate to look for a long-term solution," ministry spokesman Hussein Zalghout told AFP.

Lebanon is in the midst of its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war, compounded by a lockdown to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Some Lebanese families have started paying their home help in depreciating local currency, while others have stopped paying at all, with increasing reports of domestic workers being thrown onto the street.

In recent weeks, dozens of Ethiopian women have camped outside their consulate in Beirut.

They include those who were abandoned by their employers, without pay or passports, as well as undocumented migrants and day labourers who have been unable to find work, according to Amnesty International.

Labour Minister Lamia Yammine Douaihy had on Wednesday condemned the "unfortunate scene" outside the consulate and pledged to take necessary measures against employers.

Employers "who left migrant workers stranded in front of the consulate will be punished by law and will be placed on a blacklist that prevents them from hiring foreign domestic workers again," the ministry spokesman said.

He said the ministry would press employers to settle all outstanding payments they owe their domestic workers before they are repatriated, otherwise they will be punished by law.

Last month, the General Security agency said it had started organising repatriation flights for those who wished to return home.

On May 21, dozens of Ethiopians workers were repatriated, Lebanon's state-run National News Agency reported.

A quarter of a million migrants are employed as domestic workers in Lebanon, the large majority of them Ethiopian and many in conditions that have been condemned by human rights groups and their own governments.

A sponsorship system known as "kafala" leaves maids, nannies and carers outside the remit of Lebanese labour law and at the mercy of their employers, some paid as little as $150 a month before the downturn.