Female Migrant Workers Overcome Challenges in Lebanon

Collection with 16 media items created by Transterra Editor

07 Jan 2014 05:00

Migrant workers in Lebanon have little protection under current labor laws, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation. Many of Lebanon’s estimated 200,000 domestic workers who come to the country for work often face extremely challenging living and working conditions. The Human Rights Watch estimated that in 2008, an average of one domestic worker died in Lebanon per week. Most of these deaths are a result of suicides or attempts to escape their employers. Even when they manage to escape, once their contract is broken, they no longer have identification documents and can end up in an even more deplorable situation.

But despite the challenges and dire situations for a majority of migrant domestic workers, some of them done incredible things in Lebanon with their personal strength and the support of their network in the country. Women like Rahel Zegeye, who is a domestic worker by day and a filmmaker/artist by night, or Rahel Abebe, who started a catering service for Ethiopian food in Lebanon’s capital of Beirut, and was Lebanon's first migrant worker to have a lawsuit filed on her behalf against discrimination, are some of the women who have come the Middle East as migrant workers and thrived.

Photos by Omar Alkalouti
Text by Melissa Tabeek

Migrant Workers Lebanon Beirut Migrants Labor Laws Mena

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Migrant Workers of Lebanon 1
Beirut, Lebanon
By Osie Greenway
31 Dec 2013

Mimi Hussein, 26, a domestic worker from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, stands in the kitchen of a fellow domestic worker's workplace. Hussein has been in Lebanon for nearly a decade and works with a family she feels like a part of. While in the country, she has also been able to participate in a weekly English class, organized by the non-government organization, Migrant Task Force, in Lebanon. She is a teacher, and has been for a few months, ever since she finished the highest level of English that the organization offers. When Hussein walked through into the class two years ago, she could hardly say hello.

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Migrant Workers of Lebanon 2
Beirut, Lebanon
By Osie Greenway
31 Dec 2013

Masaret, 28, sits in the room provided for her by the old couple she works with. Though she desperately misses her family, she has grown to love the couple she has lived with for more than seven years, and is grateful to have the opportunity to put her late sister's two children through school, and be able provide them housing and clothes. She sends nearly all of her money home to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, every month.

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Migrant Workers of Lebanon 3
Beirut, Lebanon
By Osie Greenway
31 Dec 2013

Jessy, 49, is from Cebu, Philippines, but feels that Lebanon is her homeland. Today she is a proud salon owner in Hamra, Beirut. She was first a migrant worker in Kuwait in 1999, where she worked as a clerical typist. She came to Lebanon after nine years with her Lebanese husband whom she met there, and the first of her two children. After working in various salons for 5-6 years in Lebanon, she was able to fulfill her dream of opening up her own place. "I kept saving. Once I learned enough, I felt strong enough to open a salon on my own. It was time. It's very small, but there is work," she said happily.

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Migrant Workers of Lebanon 4
Beirut, Lebanon
By Osie Greenway
01 Jan 2014

Jessy has been able to build a loyal clientele who come from outside Hamra to visit her salon. One only has to spend a few minutes in the small salon to pick up on the family-feel of the establishment. Since she left Cebu in 1999, she has dreamed of opening up her own salon. Beirut, Lebanon.

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Migrant Workers of Lebanon 5
Beirut, Lebanon
By Osie Greenway
31 Dec 2013

Uniforms for domestic workers can be found everywhere throughout Beirut, from formal shops like this one to stalls on the street. There are nearly 200,000 migrant workers in Lebanon.

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Migrant Workers of Lebanon 6
Beirut, Lebanon
By Osie Greenway
03 Dec 2013

Masaret shows a wallet size photo of her family that she supports financially, but never sees. In the decade she has been in Lebanon, she has only returned to Ethiopia on three occasions.

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Migrant Workers of Lebanon 7
Beirut, Lebanon
By Osie Greenway
31 Dec 2013

Masaret sits in her room, which is decorated with mementos from home. Though some days she gets very sad about the difficulties for migrant workers in Lebanon, she is grateful to have the opportunity to provide for her family at home, while living with an old couple that she has grown to care about deeply.

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Migrant Workers of Lebanon 8
Beirut, Lebanon
By Osie Greenway
31 Dec 2013

Jessy stands outside of her shop, "Jessy Nails," with her daughter, Nour. Though sometimes her children are teased for being half-Filipino and half-Lebanese, they still feel like normal Lebanese kids.

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Migrant Workers of Lebanon 9
Beirut, Lebanon
By Osie Greenway
31 Dec 2013

Rahel Zegeye, 34, is an Ethiopian domestic worker from Faransy by day, and a documentary filmmaker and artist by night. Her first feature film, "Beirut," focused on the plight of domestic workers in Lebanon and took her two years to film in the country. She has recently received funding for a second film, which will also focus on domestic workers. Rahel has been in Lebanon for 13 years, and in that time has become a local leader in the fight for migrant workers' rights.

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Migrant Workers of Lebanon 10
Beirut, Lebanon
By Osie Greenway
31 Dec 2013

Rahel Zegeye has overcome many challenges in Lebanon in order to be where she is at today: a documentary filmmaker, a leading activist, a playwright and a source of help for her fellow migrant workers who have been mistreated. She is at work on her second film, which she has recently received funding for.

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Migrant Workers of Lebanon 11
Beirut, Lebanon
By Osie Greenway
31 Dec 2013

Mimi Hussein was once a student at the Migrant Task Force's weekly English classes. Mimi now returns every Sunday as a teacher for other migrants to teach English and help them study before their tests.

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Migrant Workers of Lebanon 12
Beirut, Lebanon
By Osie Greenway
31 Dec 2013

Though Mimi is grateful for her good situation in Lebanon, and all that she has learned, she will be leaving soon in order to go home and start a family. She and Masaret are friends, and both of them work together to help fellow workers who have been mistreated or are in a bad situation.

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Migrant Workers of Lebanon
By Osie Greenway
10 Feb 2014

This sign at St. George's Yacht Club and Marina, used to only say, "STOP SOLIDERE." But after Rahel Abebe, a migrant worker from Ethiopia, was discriminatorily denied entry to the St. George Yacht Club & Marina, the Anti-Racism filed lawsuit on her behalf. The result, most importantly to her, the sign now reads underneath the large writing, "STOP DISCRIMINATION." She has been in Beirut for nearly 14 years and also has a catering service, on the side of her work in a cafe, cooking Ethiopian food.

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Migrant Workers of Lebanon 13
By Osie Greenway
22 Feb 2014

Rahel is determined to keep fighting for migrant worker rights while in the country. "We want freelance papers, to change the sponsorship system. Still no one is listening. I cannot see migrant workers every week kill themselves, stuck at the house, they're locked with no food, how can I be happy? When those people get free, it will make me very happy. When we make the change, I will go home," she says.

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Migrant Workers of Lebanon 14
By Osie Greenway
22 Feb 2014

Rahel wearing traditional Ethiopian dress. While in the country, she has a dream to open an Ethiopian restaurant in Beirut. "It was an idea first and now I'm catering. I give the catering service when people feel like Ethiopian food. Since there is no Ethiopian restaurant in Lebanon, I'm thinking of opening a restaurant with real culture and spice and non-spicy food, and Ethiopian coffee. I don't know how much I need to go, I'm just thinking to have this idea," Rahel says.

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Migrant Workers of Lebanon 15
By Osie Greenway
22 Feb 2014

Rahel Abebe, 29, from Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia, stands in the kitchen of the Migrant Community Center in Beirut, where she spends a lot of her time when she is not working at Nasawiya, a cafe in Beirut. When Rahel was discriminatorily denied entry to the Saint George's Yacht Club and Marina in Beirut in the summer of 2012, the Anti-Racism Movement filed a lawsuit on her behalf. The matter was settled out of court, but more importantly to her, the sign now reads underneath the large writing, "STOP DISCRIMINATION." It was put there by the club owner Fadi Khoury. She has been in Beirut for nearly 14 years and also has a catering service, on the side of her work in a cafe, cooking Ethiopian food, called "Rahel Catering in Beirut."