Thousands of women are trapped in Lebanon. They risk jail time to leave

Since October, Lebanon’s economy has buckled under soaring prices, a tanking currency, ballooning unemployment and a growing debt crisis.

…The Lebanese Pound has lost over 50% of its value, limiting migrant women’s ability to send financial support to their families. With plummeting demand for their work, many have stopped sending remittances and are sinking deeper into poverty.

…Growing numbers of women — who came to Lebanon in better economic times to earn a living and send money back to their families — are scrambling to return to their home countries. But many lack immigration papers, including their passports. 

…Rights groups estimate that tens of thousands of migrant women in Lebanon are undocumented. For these workers, the hurdles to leaving the country could amount to a dead-end.

… She left her job without retrieving her passport. Her boss had confiscated it when she started work, a practice that is illegal yet widespread.

…Migrant domestic workers in Lebanon are caught in a bind. The sponsorship system, known as Kefala, links legal residency to a work contract.

…If she tries to leave this working relationship, then her status in the country is illegal. If she tries to leave Lebanon, she will likely be detained, with undocumented workers accumulating fines for every year they spend in the country without contract.

…Lebanon’s security forces classify workers who leave their jobs without their sponsor’s consent as “runaways,” even if the employer violated the terms of the country’s standard contract for sponsorships, for example through overwork, withholding salary payments, or sexual and physical abuse.

…Like many other migrant women in Lebanon, she doesn’t believe her embassy will help repatriate her. She has decided to try to get herself deported, which will mean waiting out her departure in one of Lebanon’s notoriously overcrowded prisons where malnourishment and mistreatment are rampant, according to multiple reports by rights groups and local media.

It is ”common” for migrant domestic workers to voluntarily surrender to police, a diplomatic source in Lebanon told CNN.

…“My friends told me to get myself arrested. But then I heard the police aren’t arresting migrants anymore because their jails are so full.”

…The embassy worker told her that if and when she settles her fees, she would need to wait for another three months before she can go home.

…According to the International Labor Organization, ex-employers “frequently” press charges against domestic workers. Many demand that the worker reimburse them for recruitment fees.

“There may be a justified reason for that court case, but often, research shows that they are based on false accusations.”

…“If there is a court case it …(leaving the country) becomes a longer process and a more complicated process.”

Thousands of women are trapped in Lebanon. They risk jail time to leave – CNN.com

Sigh…

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