Lebanon: General Security's deportations destroying migrant workers’ families

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Women coming into Lebanon to work as domestic workers go through General Security at Beirut's airport. (Photo: Marwan Tahtah)

By: Eva Shoufi

Published Saturday, September 6, 2014

In Lebanon, regressive laws still govern the lives of the weak. Marginalized segments are constantly bullied, knocked down, and forbidden from love and enjoying life. The sponsorship system tops the list of those laws as it regards low-paid migrants workers as less than human. Some people believe they can control these workers’ lives with a fistful of dollars while others go as far as considering them machines. In Lebanon, migrant workers are not allowed to have relationships or have children. They were born to clean our homes, how dare they fall in love?

Renuka sobs when asked about her daughter Susannah. In 20 days, she will find out if her family will be broken up. She lives in constant fear since the Lebanese authorities recently announced they will deport children of migrant workers born in Lebanon.

Renuka and her husband came to Lebanon to work more than 17 years ago. They were blessed with a beautiful daughter. Susannah is fluent in Arabic and has been enrolled in a Lebanese school since she was 3 years old. All her friends are Lebanese. She barely speaks her native language in Sri Lanka, a place she visited only twice and prefers to remain in Lebanon, her only home.

Lebanese authorities, however, decided that the daughter should leave the country if her mother wants her residency renewed. But Susannah does not know anyone in Sri Lanka and her mother will not leave her, regardless of how much she needs work, although she has built a whole life for her in this country.

Renuka is trying to renew her daughter's residency for registration in the new school year. But the Directorate of General Security refused since schools are not in session, something that could only happen in Lebanon.

"I will die without my daughter and we cannot live outside Lebanon. Our life is here," Renuka said behind her tears. In fact, the procedure inflicts harm on all foreign workers, placing them in the face of unexpected and destructive choices.

Another migrant worker refused to give her name, saying she has to renew her residency permit next week. "If they know I spoke to anyone, they will complicate matters even further," she explained. She has become an expert on how things are done here, after spending 22 years in the country and giving birth to one boy and one girl.

She fears what awaits her in a week's time, especially if General Security refuses to renew the family's permits and throws them in Adlieh prison. She cannot fathom returning to her native country.

"I have been living here for 22 years. How could I go back? My work is here and my children's lives are here," she remarks. She had planned well for her children's future before hearing about the decision. "I want them to finish their education. I do not want them to end up like me cleaning houses. I came from a poor family. My parents did not send me to school and I don't want this for my children. My son finished his tertiary diploma. How can I tell him to stop studying?"

The long years she spent in Lebanon made her understand the mindset of many people in this country. "They want us to work for 150 dollars [a month] and spend longer periods here to learn to speak Arabic well to facilitate their issues and become better at our jobs. But they do not want us to have a life outside work. They want our labor but spurn our children and lives."

Adele, Olivia, Mala, and many others are also terrified of this arbitrary measure threatening the life that they built for themselves. The decision bans the renewal of residency permits for workers in low-paying jobs who had children while in Lebanon, which also means a ban on residency permits for their children and their deportation. The decision leaves migrants workers with two options: either disperse the family and remove the children from their parents or deprive workers from their livelihood, just because they had children.

A statement issued by human rights organizations protesting the decision indicated that General Security told one of the women that "permits are for people to come here to work and not to have children." But what would be the position of Lebanese authorities if countries with a Lebanese diaspora decided to deport their children or deny their right to create a family?

Nadim Houri, Human Rights Watch deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa division, believes "this measure targets workers in the third and fourth categories, meaning domestic workers and low-income workers in the agricultural and industrial sectors." According to Lebanese residency regulations, particular segments of migrants in low-paid jobs, particularly women domestic workers, are not allowed to sponsor their spouses or children.

In the past, children of women migrants born in Lebanon had the option to apply for a one year visa, until the age of 4. Then it becomes contingent on enrolling in a school. However, "the decision was taken at the start of the year and its enforcement began in May. It was noted that people who had been living in Lebanon for long periods of time and who had renewed their residencies regularly got their residencies rejected this year and they were given a grace period to leave."

No public announcement was made about the procedure. However, rights organizations are claiming that General Security wants to reduce the number of foreigners in Lebanon. Moreover, "the sponsorship system forces workers to live in the sponsor's home," explains Houri. "In practice, however, many workers are no longer abiding to this due to marriage, children, and other reasons. The procedure could be aiming to limit this 'violation' of the sponsorship system and to force workers to live in their employers' homes."

This procedure will be applied on persons in violation of the residency system," explains Brigadier Joseph Obeid, a media officer at the General Security Directorate. "Could we deport the mother and keep the children if the mother was in violation? It also applies to children who are not in school and the schools have not started yet. We are applying the law and we are not the side that issued this procedure."

This leads to the conclusion that authorities are exploiting the expiry of some children's residency permits before the beginning of the school year to deport their families. "It is a violation of the right to establish a family and the right of the child to live in the parental home," maintains Houri. He called on the government to abide by its its international commitments and overturn this procedure, which is a source of grave concern for workers who already face lack of job security and are treated as inferiors by some people."

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


What a shame. I bet if Susannah was a French, British and or American blonde with blue eyes, this would never happened to her.
Actually, it is beyond shame!

What a shame. I bet if Susannah was a French, British and or American blonde with blue eyes, this would never happened to her.
Actually, it is beyond shame!

For a country whose people are spread all around the world, this is truly a shameful act.

Can't the daughter leave Lebanon & apply to re-enter as a foreign worker ? Susannah is 16 - 17 years of age. She needs a sponsor ?
For whom she could work part time &
Who could allow her to attend school as part of her on going work training
The sponsor may even be able to claim a tax deduction for the tuition fees ?
There are many ways to skin a cat.
Good Luck Susannah !

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