Migrants in Lebanon worse off amid crises, report finds

Migrants in Lebanon struggling to afford food, shelter, flights home following country's economic collapse
3 min read
26 May, 2021
Migrants living and working in Lebanon have been hit bad by the ongoing economic crisis, Covid-19 lockdowns, and the huge explosion in Beirut last year. Many want to go home, while some already have.
Kenyan migrant workers protest outside their country's consulate in Beirut, Lebanon, August 2020. [Getty Images]

A new report released Wednesday by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has revealed how Lebanon’s dire economic crisis, Covid-19 lockdowns, and the massive explosion at Beirut’s Port last summer have hit the country's migrant communities hard.

The UN migration agency found that conditions have worsened for Lebanon’s migrant workers due to these crises. Many have lost their jobs and are struggling to afford basics such as paying rent, providing for their families, and accessing vital healthcare.

The report, conducted between October 2020 and February 2021, stressed the need to do more in assisting these migrants to return home if they wish. It found that half of the migrants spoken to expressed willingness to return to their home countries, but that there were no means to do so.

The report appears to deal primarily with economic migrants to the country and not those fleeing fighting and oppression in neighbouring Syria.

Many migrant workers were abandoned by their employers who could no longer afford to pay their salaries, and have been ignored by their own embassies.

The IOM has been helping migrant workers in Lebanon return home since last year, especially from Ethiopia. It released a report in September detailing these returns.

"Clearly, and based on this worrying assessment, there is an urgent need to rapidly scale up voluntary return assistance services in Lebanon. Since the explosion on 4 August, IOM has been working with the Lebanese government to assist 460 migrants to return home," said IOM’s chief officer in Lebanon, Mathieu Luciano.

"IOM continues to receive many requests from migrants, NGOs, and embassies, which far exceed the organisation’s available resources," he continued.

According to the IOM’s new analysis, 50 percent of migrants in the report said they had lost their jobs amid Lebanon’s recession. Over half said they were unable to meet their basic nutritional needs.

Nearly half said they were living in accommodations which are in poor condition, paying high rents, and fear being evicted with short notice.  

The report continues that at least 20 percent of those spoken to reported health problems, some of which they said required ongoing treatment and supervision. They did however "express higher awareness of health care services available, particularly in relation to Covid-19".

Some even said they were being forced to resort to exploitative and illegal work to provide for their families.

"As the economic situation continues to deteriorate and employment opportunities remain limited, migrants’ vulnerability to exploitation and abuse is likely to increase"  

"Humanitarian organisations are slowly expanding their emergency relief programmes to address the immediate needs of vulnerable migrants. However, more sustainable solutions to alleviate migrant suffering, such as voluntary return and reintegration assistance, remain a glaring gap," he added.

The analysis was broken down into the genders and nationalities of those spoken to.

IOM said 1,061 migrants residing in Lebanon were interviewed. While the male respondents were mostly Bangladeshi or Sudanese nationals, the female respondents were mainly from Ethiopia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

The report concluded that it seeks to give the necessary advice on humanitarian programming targeting migrants in vulnerable situations in Lebanon such as the ones interviewed.

Lebanon hosts over 250,000 foreign workers, some working illegally, who are employed under the country's kafala sponsorship system, a scheme that ultimately ties workers to their employers.

Labour groups say that the true figures are likely to be much higher, with Ethiopians alone making up more than 400,000 of the migrant community.