African low skilled workers in Lebanon have been exposed to multiple hardships over the past months. This is due to a multiplicity of factors which includes the economic and political instability in Lebanon which has led to depreciation of the currency, inflation and job losses with Lebanese nationals unable to afford workers; the historical sponsorship (Kafala) system which gives room for exploitation and abuse, the impact of COVID-19 which has led to increased pressure on workers particularly care and domestic work due to work-from-home arrangements at workplaces; and finally the explosion in Beirut.
The African Union Commission convened the meeting to discuss with three affected Member States, namely, Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) IOM and the International Labour Organization (ILO) given their involvement, to understand the situation of the African migrant workers in Lebanon, map what has been done, outstanding assistance needs, and measures to scale the support on the ground.
Her Excellency H.E. Tsion Teklu, State Minister for Economic Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia and the Consul General of Ethiopia in Lebanon, Mr. Temesgen Oumer briefed on the situation of Ethiopians in Lebanon. According to H.E Tsion Teklu, ‘the Government is working with several partners, including IOM and ILO, in providing assistance to stranded migrants in the provision of shelters, psychosocial support, return and reintegration. The explosion in Lebanon has exacerbated foregoing challenges which include the securing of exit visas for majority of migrant workers in Lebanon, majority of whom are in an irregular situation’. The number of Ethiopians in Lebanon was estimated at 400,000 and the government has facilitated the evacuation of 658 migrants since the beginning of this year, with the government providing tickets and covering the cost of quarantine. The slow process of the processing of exit visas poses as a challenge for the swift response of the consulates and embassies in facilitating the return of stranded migrants; hence hindered urgent repatriations amidst covid; there are 3500 migrants registered and awaiting repatriation.
A meeting was held with the Embassy of Sudan in Lebanon prior to the meeting where the Ambassador Ali Al-Sadig briefed the AUC on the situation. Ambassador Al-Sadig mentioned that about 2700 Sudanese have been registered with the Embassy in Lebanon, with majority being men and in an irregular situation. Most of the workers occupied low skilled jobs such as guards and cleaners. With the depreciation of the currency, and the economic situation many were abruptly terminated or receiving wages that barely covers their basic needs. Since 2020, the government of Sudan has supported the repatriation of 134 persons. The tickets were purchased by the individuals themselves while the government supported by successfully engaging the Lebanese General Security on waiving the fines on Sudanese migrants in irregular situation which is between USD 600-900 per year for every year spent in Lebanon.
Stakeholders agreed on the need for coordinated communication and resource mobilization for direct assistance on identified challenges and the utilization of already existing networks on the ground to urgently meet the needs of migrants. Return seems to be the most urgent need for many migrants, albeit the challenge of the dearth of foreign currency in the country, the meeting agreed that issues related to payment of outstanding wages to the migrants even when they are repatriated need to be addressed immediately. The process for granting exit visa, return and integration need to be of priority to the Member States.
The meeting concluded by recommending to the AUC to utilize the Afro-Arab partnership to highlight the issues of protection of African migrants.
The AUC will continue consultations for coordinated urgent assistance to be provided to address the dire situation of African workers stranded in the Lebanon, considering the aggravation of the situation with the devastating blast in the port and which seriously disrupted the lives of people and has resultantly worsened the plight of African migrants.