14 Nov 2011

Migrants' Rights in Lebanon

In response to the recent wave of arbitrary detentions and forced evictions of migrant workers in the Bourj Hammoud, Nabaa and Dawra areas in Beirut, representatives of the migrant communities in Lebanon today held a press conference and issued a robust statement against the  campaign of harassment launched by the Lebanese security forces and army. This campaign followed a nasty report by MurrTV that blamed migrant workers for crimes and ‘moral degeneration’ in these areas and that may have provided the incentive for the security forces to compensate for their incompetence and failure to police these areas by unleashing this brutal and unjustified crackdown on immigrant workers.

To my knowledge, this is the first time that such a statement was issued by the migrant workers in response to harassment, and hopefully it is an indication that they will no longer put up with these forms of collective punishment and intimidation by the Lebanese state and society. There also seems to be wide support for the workers particularly among youth in Lebanon, in a notable shift from the traditional apathy, complacency and outright hostility that used to be the norms. I firmly believe that this is one of the most important social struggles that we will have to fight in Lebanon in the coming years to end the shameful treatment of migrant workers.

Below are the main points of the statement, which was issued in Arabic:

-          It condemned the racist language and stereotyping of migrant workers by the media.
-          It made it clear that migrant workers come to Lebanon because of the social and economic needs of the country that create demand for their labour, and that they have no interest in creating unrest.
-          It condemned the wide scale of arbitrary arrests and the beatings and humiliation of migrant workers by security forces, and the temporary detention of legal residents.
-          It condemned the insults, racial epithets and the uncivilised treatment of detainees that violate their human rights and insult their dignity.
-          It reminded the political representatives of the local community of their moral duty to protect the migrant workers. It also reminded them that the people they represent were once in a similar position to that of the migrant workers today and they had to struggle to overcome discrimination and marginalisation.
-          It pointed out to the local community that the migrant workers are contributing directly to the local economy.
-          It pointed out that the Lebanese often immigrate to the countries that the migrant workers come from, where they receive decent treatment and many go on to settle and acquire citizenship. (An option not open to migrant workers in Lebanon regardless of how long they stay in the country.)
-          It drew attention to the constant threat of physical abuse, sexual harassment and deprivation of wages that migrant workers constantly face, with the collusion of security forces.
-          It confirmed the commitment of the migrant workers to acquiring their full legal rights and that they are in Lebanon to contribute to the economy and add to its cultural diversity.

It closed by calling upon the security forces to perform their duties and protect migrant workers and asked Lebanese society to support them against the racist campaign they are facing.

Let this be the beginning of a social struggle against the injustices and humiliation that migrant workers face in Lebanon. We don’t deserve to call ourselves free if we tolerate the abuse and inhuman treatment that they have to face on a daily basis, and the periodic campaigns of harassment, intimidation and expulsion they regularly have to endure.

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Karl reMarks is a blog about Middle East politics and culture with a healthy dose of satire.

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