Across the streets in West Africa, the presence of Lebanese is felt everywhere especially in the business sector. They were highly welcomed to settle and operate businesses in this accommodating ecosphere thus found successes in a huge market population. While historians are inconclusive about the history of the arrival of the Lebanese in West Africa, it is widely believed they arrived as early as in the 1890s.
Prior to the Lebanese Civil War lasting from 1975 to 1990, neighboring countries such as Syria, Palestine, and Egypt served as a source of “domestic labor.” These were mostly poor individuals (including Lebanese) who served as domestic workers in wealthy Lebanese households. In recent years, migrant workers from Africa have also joined the list of many countries, “supplying” domestics laborers to Lebanon.
However, the entire process of becoming a domestic African worker in Lebanon is marked by fraud, exploitation, and inhuman treatment of, especially black Africans which many analysts now brand as “modern slavery”.
With a promise of a decent job and wages, migrant laborers, who are mostly faced with hard economic conditions in their home countries, especially women are easily preyed on by agents who recruit migrant laborers to Lebanon. These would promise the migrants the availability of decent jobs and wages in Lebanon and could in certain instances, even pay for the travel expenses of the migrants, and settle to be repaid from the migrant’s wages.
As victims narrate, most of these agents often sign them off to their “employers,” who would cut off all avenues of communication the migrant may have, such as seizing their telephones and subjecting them to stringent monitoring.
The systematic recruitment process of migrant domestic workers into Lebanon is denoted as the kafala system in the now economically embattled country. The kafala is grossly an exploitative system “used to trap into Lebanon”. Migrant workers, especially West Africans who are enticed into trusting that they would get a better life in Lebanon, are normally faced with dire conditions and treatment in the hands of their “employers”.
African girls faces abuses ranging from racial and sexual abuses, torture, tormenting of workers through denial of food, false imprisonment, non-payment to pay wages, and even death. In April 2020, Aljazeera reported the death of a 23-year-old Ghanaian lady who was found at the basement apartment where she worked as a domestic worker in Lebanon. In contrast, Lebanese migrants and settlers receive peaceful reception in Africa.
While the African diplomatic missions in Lebanon continue to do too little to address the situation of these migrant workers, the judiciary system in that jurisdiction equally serves no purpose in protecting the migrant laborers.