Anger as Lebanese authorities deport 'abused' Kenyan domestic worker

Anger as Lebanese authorities deport 'abused' Kenyan domestic worker
2 min read
18 July, 2018
Anti-kafala activists say the assault is "not an isolated nor singular account of unprovoked violence against a black migrant woman in Lebanon".
Protesters gather in Beirut against the kafala system [File photo: Getty]
A Kenyan woman who was the victim of a "mob attack" in a Beirut suburb has been deported from Lebanon, sparking anger among rights campaigners.

The rights of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon were again thrown into the spotlight after footage of the attack in June spread on social media, prompting outrage and demands for an apology from the Kenyan government. 

The video shows two women, Shamila and Rosa, being dragged by their hair and hit repeatedly by a group of people while others watched. The pair were arrested and appeared in military court.

Shamila was deported on Sunday, her lawyer Nermine Sibai said, for being in violation of her visa. This was despite assurances from Lebanese authorities that a deportation order had not been issued, The Guardian reported. When the order came, it only gave a 48 hour notice, leaving no time to appeal, Sibai said.

The case against her five suspected attackers, one of whom was reportedly offduty military officer, was still ongoing. 

Lebanese employers use the controversial kafala (sponsorship) system, which strips workers of basic rights, trapping them by prohibiting them from changing or leaving jobs without their employer's permission.

Under kafala, workers are tied to one employer and cannot change or quit jobs, or leave the country, without the employer's permission. Critics label it as a modern version of slavery. 

Read more: Meeting Lebanon's slaves

Employers can also cancel the domestic worker's residency visa, which forces her to either stay in the country illegally or face deportation, which often means they must spend time in prison before being transported out of the country.

"Instead of getting access to justice as the target of a brutal mob assault, Shamila was criminalised for her status as an undocumented worker," said the Anti-Racism Movement.

"Shamila's experience [of a] racist, sexist, classist assault is definitely not an isolated nor singular account of unprovoked violence against a black migrant woman in Lebanon."

Kenya's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it is discussing the incident with Lebanese authorities.

"We are insisting on the prosecution of the culprits so that they meet the full force of the law," a statement said. "We are also demanding an apology from the Lebanese authorities."

The Lebanese Army refuted the reports, and claimed the "clearly intoxicated" Kenyan worker attacked a soldier and his wife, causing others to intervene.

An estimated 200,000 migrant workers, from countries including Ethiopia, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Kenya, work in Lebanon.