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The Lebanese revolution must abolish the kafala system

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On Tuesday, November 5, the 20th day of the ongoing uprising in Lebanon, an Ethiopian Airlines flight from Beirut arrived at Addis Ababa's Bole International Airport. Its cargo was seven dead bodies of Ethiopian domestic workers who had died in Lebanon. According to Ethiopian journalist Zecharia Zelalem, "100s of family members, some from as far as Wolaita were at the airport in what became a mass mourning procession."

Zelalem had previously published a long investigation into efforts by both the Lebanese and Ethiopian authorities to cover up Ethiopian deaths in Lebanon.

It is not known how these workers died as no investigation into the circumstances of their deaths was launched. The story garnered little attention in Lebanon.

Under the country's kafala (or sponsorship) system, the legal status of migrant domestic workers is in the hands of their employers. If the employer terminates their contract, the sponsorship gets automatically cancelled, turning these workers into illegal aliens and putting them at risk of arrest and/or deportation. In addition, although confiscating passports is forbidden by law, even Minister of Labour Camille Abousleiman admitted that it still happens.

In effect, this means that foreign workers, most of whom are women, have very little means to defend themselves should the employer abuse them in any way or refuse to pay their salary, let them call their family back home or allow them to take breaks on Sundays.

If out of desperation they flee, they automatically become undocumented migrants. On the streets of Lebanon, they can find themselves as vulnerable, if not more so, than they were in their abusive workplace. If caught, they could be thrown in prison. In some, but by no means rare, cases, they end up killing themselves or being killed.

Currently, there are approximately 250,000 foreign workers - some facing abuse - in a country of more than five million which finds itself at a unique moment........

© Al Jazeera