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The comparison between the photos taken when she arrived in Lebanon in 2007 and when she left in 2022 is shocking: Muna Giri, a domestic worker from Nepal, looks like she has aged forty years after fifteen years of work forced into his Lebanese employers. Abuse, physical and moral violence, without any pay: a Lebanese NGO denounces her treatment and calls for mobilization for the rights of Muna Giri and hundreds of other foreign workers in Lebanon.

At 43, Muna Giri was finally able to return to Nepal on April 25, 2022, and meet her grandchildren for the first time, after a fifteen-year absence from her native country.

It was following the publication of an article on Muna’s life in slavery in the Nepalese media that her daughter, Chitra Giri, contacted the NGO This is Lebanon at the beginning of April, in order to relay her story and try to save his mother from the grip of his employers.

Investigation followed during which the NGO revealed the disastrous conditions in which Muna Giri had worked and lived for fifteen years: in Zghorta, a town 90 kilometers north of Beirut, she worked in a Maronite family of former ministers. Illiterate, she had no right to a telephone, no contact outside the house, was beaten, deprived of sleep and food. Informed, the Nepalese consulate asked to meet the employers, who then preferred to send Muna back to her country.

To date, she has only received part of the total owed to her by her employers: a few money orders per year sent to her family in Nepal, for a total of 7,000 dollars (about 6,600 euros). According to This is Lebanon, his Lebanese employers owe him tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid wages.

Receipt of the last money order sent by Muna Giri's boss to her daughter in Nepal, in the amount of $700, dated April 23, 2022, two days before Muna's departure for Nepal
Receipt of the last money order sent by Muna Giri’s boss to her daughter in Nepal, in the amount of $700, dated April 23, 2022, two days before Muna’s departure for Nepal © This is Lebanon

Lebanon hosts approximately 250,000 domestic workers, often from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal. All work under the system of kafala, an indefinite sponsorship, which allows the employer to confiscate workers’ papers and leads to numerous financial and physical abuses.

“Even though I have worked all this time, I am penniless”

Before the departure of Muna Giri from Lebanon, This is Lebanon collected the testimony of the Nepalese by contacting her on the number of her Lebanese boss.

In the video, Muna Giri says:

My boss has hit me once or twice, but my boss hits me every day. She slaps my mouth and pulls my ears frequently.

Of course, I want to go back to Nepal! But how could I? I have been in Lebanon for twelve or thirteen years, and even though I have worked here all this time, I am penniless. I don’t even know what a dollar looks like. I haven’t set foot outside since my arrival.

Video sent to This is Lebanon by Muna Giri’s family after returning to Nepal, showing bruises and burn marks on her face and body.

When I requested the termination of my employment contract, my employers told me that they did not have enough money to pay me the return ticket, and that my daughter had to send them the necessary sum.

I have no business of my own. They said that if I had to leave, I had to give them back even my underwear, because they belonged to them.

Muna Giri with her employers.
Muna Giri with her employers. © This is Lebanon

Muna Giri’s boss filed a complaint for defamation against the NGO This is Lebanon in the Tripoli court on April 28.

The editorial staff of the Observers contacted Muna Giri’s employers, without obtaining a response.

Defamation complaint against This is Lebanon.
Defamation complaint against This is Lebanon. © This is Lebanon

“We sometimes manage to obtain compensation, but convictions of employers remain very rare”

Wadih Al Asmar is the president of the Lebanese Center for Human Rights. Like many Lebanese activists, he calls for an end to the kafala system:

Often these “sponsor” families explain that they put the worker’s salary in a separate account, for her protection, and those around them turn a blind eye to physical abuse. This is a very frequent pattern: the worker arrives in Lebanon, she is promised a dream job, then her fate is in the hands of the employer, she finds herself stuck.

We try to get legal help, contact the employer or the employment office if it is impossible to speak to the maid, then we file a complaint with social services and try to get a lawyer for the complainant. Often, when pressure is put on the kafil, he concedes to improve the working conditions, or else he accepts a breach of contract.

The NGO sometimes manages to obtain redressbut convictions of employers remain very rare.

“It is the responsibility of the State to protect them from their arrival until their departure”

In 2011, the International Labor Organization (ILO) and signatory countries adopted convention no. 189 regulating the activities of domestic workers. Zineh Mezhar of the Regional Office for Arab States of the ILO believes that Lebanon must ratify this convention and dismantle the kafala system:

In Lebanon, domestic work is not regulated by law. We are talking about all the basic rights such as social security, the right to unionize, as well as the maximum working time per week and the guarantee of wages. Lebanon did not sign the 2011 agreement. A legal change is necessary in order to guarantee workers the right to resign if they wish, to be able to choose their employer and to keep their identity papers.

There is no article of law on which judges can rely in this type of case. There are contradictions between the ministerial decrees, which limit, for example, the number of hours worked per week or the days off; and the practice of the kafala system.

Often, the employer falsely accuses the servant of theft, and the employees are regularly tried in absentia [entre 2013 et 2017, 91% des audiences dans des affaires judiciaires de travailleuses domestiques ont été menées par contumace, selon l’OIT] either because they were repatriated or because they were not informed at all.

There is also work to be done at the level of social awareness: domestic work is seen as an activity reserved for women, especially foreign women, from the working class. This gives a disadvantage on three levels: misogyny, xenophobia and class contempt.

Their migration is a direct result of the strong demand for foreign workers in Lebanon. It is therefore the responsibility of the State to protect them from their arrival until their departure.

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