Migrant Workers in Lebanon – Playing for Equality

A cricket tournament highlights issues affecting migrant workers in Lebanon – and hits out at discrimination to bring communities together.

Migrant workers in Lebanon gathered for a day of cricket on the outskirts of Beirut | Source: ILO

Migrant workers in Lebanon gathered for a day of cricket on the outskirts of Beirut | Source: ILO

Beirut, 6 November 2014 (ILO)* – Every Sunday in Lebanon, some of the country’s hundreds of thousands of non-Arab migrant workers emerge from an arduous week at work to enjoy their only day off.
Amongst them is Fernando Sugath, a migrant worker from Sri Lanka. For several years, Sugath has been meeting fellow migrant workers at the weekend at a Beirut parking lot to play cricket, a sport that is highly popular in his home country but little known in Lebanon outside migrant communities.
This summer, Fernando spent much of his leisure time co-organising a cricket tournament to bring the various migrant worker teams together. The event was held on October 26 in the Lebanese hillside town of Broumanna overlooking the capital Beirut, and fielded 20 teams, including three women’s teams.

The players were mostly from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan – countries that provide much of Lebanon’s non-Arab migrant workforce, and brought together migrant workers from different sectors of the economy, including those working in domestic work and construction.

The right to a weekly day off

“But we are the few lucky ones that got the day off on Sunday. So many guys and girls, they don’t get days off,” he said.“We love the game, this is part of our lives as migrant workers, this is how we enjoy our off day,” said Sugath, who financially supports a wife and two children back home. According to his work contract, he can only travel back home once every two years to see them.

While Lebanese law entitles them to a weekly day off, many migrant workers are unaware of this and other rights. They are often obliged to negotiate holiday time and daily working hours with employers on an individual basis.

Lebanon, like most other Arab countries, organises migrant workers under the “Kafala” – or sponsorship – system. The system, which the ILO has called on member states to reform, ties the right of migrant workers to reside and work in the country to a single employer – a situation that can expose them to forced labour. The situation is all the more problematic as many migrant workers in the region are not allowed the right to organise.

The ILO project Improving Labour Migration Governance and Combating Human Trafficking in the Middle East (MAGNET) works on advising regional governments on migration policy reform.

“Tastiest Home Cooking”

The players and spectators also enjoyed home-cooked Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan food, prepared and sold by women from the Atayeb Chighel El Beit catering line. Translating into “Tastiest Home Cooking,” the initiative was launched by the ILO project Promoting Rights of Women Migrant Domestic Workers in Lebanon (PROWD,) in collaboration with the Beirut-based Souk El Tayyeb farmer’s market. The ILO professionally trained women migrant domestic workers to develop their professional skills and to acquire the means to supplement their meager income from domestic work.

A different side to migrant workers

The tournament was viewed by many spectators as a rare chance to see the migrants as individuals with pursuits outside their roles as workers, and as a means to promote equality in a society that often looks down on migrant workers as socially inferior.

“This is probably one of the few events that happens in Lebanon which brings migrant workers, Lebanese, English people and all these different cultures together on what is a reasonably level playing field,” said William Dobson, a British teacher who co-organised the event.

William Attallah, a Lebanese high school student who attended the tournament, agreed. “The work that (women migrant domestic workers) do is very important. All of the households are kind of kept together by the women who do these jobs,” Attallah said.

Members of the winning women's team celebrate their victory | Source: ILO

Members of the winning women’s team celebrate their victory | Source: ILO

“The problems start at the level where you have different social statuses, and whenever you are on the field those social statuses disappear and everyone is really equal. Events like these encourage people to have that equality off the field, not just on the field,” he added

Pradee, who preferred not to disclose her family name, is a migrant domestic worker from Sri Lanka, and the captain of one of the women’s cricket teams. She agreed that the day was not only about sport.

“We miss family and we miss our country. Usually we only work and come house and think of money and problems,” she said. “Today I forget this is Lebanon, today I think this is my country. We forget all our problems.”

For media queries, contact: Salwa Kanaana, Regional Communication and Public Information Officer, ILO Regional Office for Arab States, Tel: +961 1 752 400 (Ext 117), Mobile: +961 71 505958, email: kanaana@ilo.org

*Source: ILO News.

2014 Human Wrongs Watch

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