What an investigation of Racism in Lebanon revealed

France24 lead an investigation in Lebanon to try and find out whether domestic workers suffer abuse in Lebanon. I’m sure you already know the answer.

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The France24 team divided their investigation in two parts:

The first one, which is filmed in Arabic follows France24’s Sarra Grira and Rahel, a former Ethiopian domestic worker turned activist. The second one, filmed in French and then dubbed in English, follows France24’s Julien Pain and Aimée Razanajay, a former Malagasy domestic worker turned activist.

It is the same investigation, with the only difference being that the Arabic version starts with Rahel and the English and French versions start with Aimée.

Arabic Version

Here is what they found out.

02:11 – 03:14

Aimée and Rahel try to enter a beach

racism in lebanon, migrant workers, kafala system, beach, racism, anti racism movement, france 24
Screenshot from the scene where Rahel and Aimee try to enter the beach
  • When Aimée and Rahel tried to enter a beach in an area that’s probably around Batroun, they were first allowed in by the reception woman. Then, after a few moments, the manager tells them to leave. When they asked why, they were told that the pool is full, and that it’s closing soon. 

03:14 – 03:45

Julien and Sarra try to enter

racism in lebanon, migrant workers, kafala system, beach, racism, anti racism movement, france 24
Julien and Sarra enter the pool only to find it empty
  • When Julien asked “I cannot go to the swimming pool?”, the woman replied “it is closing at 6”. When Julien pointed out that it was 4pm, the woman told him yes. “So I can go in?”, Julien asked. “Yes”, she replied. When Julien and Sarra entered, they discovered that the pool was quite empty.

03:40(Eng/Fr), 0:45(Ar) – 04:17, 04:26

Follow up

racism in lebanon, migrant workers, kafala system, beach, racism, anti racism movement, france 24
Rahel (left) and Aimee (right) talking about their experience
  • In each version, Rahel and Aimée are asked why they think they weren’t allowed in. Rahel recalled how they were first asked “who did you come with?” (as in where are your masters?). When she was asked why she thought this happened, she replied “I don’t know. Racism. What else could it be?”
  • Similarly, Aimée pointed out the fact that we’re all human beings and that she couldn’t understand why we can eat the same food and live in the same house, but we cannot go swimming together.

“And the segregation begins at the hiring stage. Aimée is particularly critical of the ages at which they bring these women to Lebanon often selling them like Cattle with no thought to what happens to them once they start working for a family”

04:30, 04:39 – 05:29, 05:37

Julien and Sarra visit a domestic worker agency

racism in lebanon, migrant workers, kafala system, beach, racism, anti racism movement, france 24
Julien and Sarra looking through profiles at a Domestic Worker agency
  • Julien and Sarra decide to visit a hiring agency, posing as potential customers. They started by showing them a catalog from which they can pick a future employee. “African”, “French-speaking”, “Sri Lankan”, “Filipina”; all prepared to leave their country to come and work here. This is what they were told:
  • She cannot go back to her home country before her contract has been terminated.
  • She does not have any annual leave.
  • She is allowed to call her family only twice a month.
  • She can be brought back to the agency in case of any problem. “And you’ll find us another one?”, Sarra asked. “Yes, of course.”
  • She has to sign an employment contract which is tailor made for their employees. If the boss is unfair or abusive, there’s nothing she can do about it.

05:30, 05:38 – 07:33

Julien and Sarra interview a Malagasy domestic worker

racism in lebanon, migrant workers, kafala system, beach, racism, anti racism movement, france 24
Julien and Sarra interview a Malagasy domestic worker
  • Both Julien and Sarra interview a Malagasy woman who has been working as a domestic worker for the past 6 years. Her face is of course blurred and she remains anonymous.
  • The woman tells us how when she first came to her employer’s house, she barely was allowed to eat anything for 3 months. She had bread and Nescafe, and nothing else.
  • Furthermore, she wasn’t paid for 10 months. When she was asked why she didn’t leave, she replied that she couldn’t. “How can I leave my employer? I’ll still have to write paperwork”.
  • When her daughter died and she wanted to go back home, but she wasn’t allowed to by her sponsor.
  • She ended up in prison. Her employer told her that the government wanted to ask her a few questions, and then left her there. She stayed in prison for 1 week.
  • She has the official paper stating that she was in prison, but she couldn’t read it because it was in Arabic. The immigration officials did not translate it. In fact, they never contacted her, just her employer.
  • She wants to stay in Lebanon because she needs the money. She has children and has been a widow for a long time.

07:34 – 09:46

Julien and Sarra visits Caritas Lebanon Migrant Center

Julien and Sarra interview a Malagasy domestic worker
Julien and Sarra visit Caritas Migrant Center
  • The place they visit is a shelter where migrant workers stay there while their papers are being done so that they can either change employers or go back to their home country.
  • The Caritas woman explains how in Lebanon we don’t have a law that protects migrant workers from harm. We have the Kafala system, which basically states that any migrant worker in Lebanon has to have a sponsor and that a worker cannot change households without the explicit authorization of the sponsor.
  • She then explains, after being asked, that eliminating the Kafala isn’t simple because it’s been in place for a very long time. But some changes can be made. For example, the contract can be translated into a language the domestic worker understands so that she has full knowledge of what she’s signing. Or that she has the right to keep her passport, instead of being forced to hand it over to her sponsor.

“There’s really no way out. If she has been physically abused, mistreated, or isn’t getting enough food, or is unable to communicate with her loved ones, the only solution she has is to run away. And then a new problem begins. She is then living illegally because she no longer lives in her sponsor’s home.”
– Caritas Worker

09:47 – 11:11

Julien and Sarra interview Abdallah Razzouk,
Director general of the Ministry of Labor

racism in lebanon, migrant workers, kafala system, beach, racism, anti racism movement, france 24
A douchebag, objectively.
  • When asked whether he is aware of the horrible situation in which many domestic workers live, he replied that there are problems like in any country. “Sometimes, although this is rare, it is the mistress of the house causing the problems. But generally speaking, the issue is with the domestic worker because she comes from a very different environment and is not used to the Lebanese way of life.”

Quick response to this disgusting answer: I wonder if Mr. Razzouk is aware that he’s basically saying that the problem is that domestic workers are apparently unfamiliar with a daily dose of Hummus, Man’ouche and Fairuz and therefore cannot tolerate being beaten or being forced to live in such horrible conditions that leads to them escaping or committing suicide.

  • Mr Razzouk then said that he is working with the International Labor Organization to translate the contracts into Arabic and French or Arabic and English – I wonder why it’s taking so long to translate some papers.
  • When he was asked whether he thinks their is racism towards domestic workers in Lebanon, he replied “I swear to God. Absolutely not. There is no racism here. “

Quick response to yet another disgusting answer: Racism exists in Lebanon, to say the least. In fact, it so exist that we actually use the word “Sri Lankan” to describe any domestic worker with the question “What is your Sri Lankan? Ethiopian or Filipino?” actually existing. I’ve heard it before, and it’s been used in many protests as a sarcastic slogan. Any Lebanese who hasn’t been living in a cave all his/her life, knows that racism exists, including Mr. Razzouk.

  • When asked if female domestic workers are allowed to swim in private pools in Beirut, he replied “of course they are, we even take her there myself.” (meaning his family takes their domestic worker to the swimming pool)

11:11 – 12:32

Julien goes back to Aimée, and Sarra to Ali, a local activist

Julien and Sarra interview a Malagasy domestic worker
Ali being interviewed
  • When Julien told Aimée what Mr. Razzouk just said, she replied “if we are to solve a problem, we have to admit that the problem exists in the first place. If I’m sick and I go to the doctor, I have to say what’s wrong with me so that he can make me better, give me the right treatment, right medication I need. If I refuse to accept I’m sick, then it becomes very difficult for the doctor to treat me.
  • When Sarra told Ali the same thing, he replied “the ministry can make up all the excuses it wants, but the fact of the matter remains that the situation in Lebanon is overwhelmingly racist when it comes to domestic workers. There is a system, the Kafala system, that has to be abolished. It’s as simple as that.” (rough translation)

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