Lebanon’s dollar crisis hits migrants workers

Migrant workers from Bangladesh, working for waste management company RAMCO, inside their dormitory at a company facility in Biakout, near Beirut, Lebanon. The dollar crisis has affected migrant labor especially badly in Lebanon. (Reuters)
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Updated 23 May 2020

Lebanon’s dollar crisis hits migrants workers

  • International labor force bears the brunt of Beirut’s economic woes, as the economy reels from currency and virus crises

BEIRUT: Temitope cannot find work in Lebanon since the Nigerian domestic worker escaped her employer’s house last month.

With Lebanon in deep financial crisis and dollars in short supply, people have less money to spend on help. And with Beirut airport shut under a coronavirus lockdown, Temitope can’t go back home even if she tries.

“I’m very afraid. There’s not a day that I don’t cry ... without any money even to eat now,” said Temitope, who climbed down a building after her employer beat her until she bled. She now lives with friends, relying on any cash they can give her.

Like many African and Asian women in Lebanon, Temitope, a mother of two, was recruited for work and came so she could send money home to her family.

But dollar shortages piling pressure on hundreds of thousands of migrant workers in Lebanon have left some stranded in the streets and many begging to go home. Rights groups warn this puts workers at risk of abuse and trauma.

Embassy and NGO shelters are saturated.

Since Lebanon plunged into crisis late last year, the local currency has lost more than half its value. Prices have soared as more Lebanese slide into poverty.

The coronavirus pandemic has also hampered government efforts to repatriate workers via their embassies, and even those flights require payment in dollars.

“There’s more need than ever before for shelters...for those who lost jobs and have no place else to go,” said Zeina Mezher of the International Labour Organization.

Activist groups say they field regular phone calls from unpaid domestic workers who have been kicked out of their accomodation or escaped their employer’s households.

Migrant workers form the backbone of sectors like waste collection and housekeeping in Lebanon, where many barely have any rights, face widespread racism and sometimes commit suicide.

Most women work as maids under a sponsorship system called “kafala” that even the former labor minister likened to slavery. It prevents them from leaving without the employer’s consent, with salaries as low as $150 a month.

Last month, police interrogated a Lebanese man who tried to sell his Nigerian housekeeper for $1,000 on the social media site Facebook.

“The crises, whether it’s coronavirus or the economy, expose the flaws in the kafala system,” Mezher said.

The prime minister’s wife sparked controversy last week when she called on Lebanese people facing rising unemployment to take up jobs usually filled by foreigners like housekeeper or doorman.

Bangladeshi trash collectors went on strike for weeks after the firm managing waste in Beirut, RAMCO, switched to paying them in Lebanese pounds, undermining the value of their wages.

When workers stopped garbage trucks from going out in protest last week, riot police arrived, firing smoke grenades at some and beating up others.

Mohamad Ilahi, one of the workers, has not sent money to his wife and two daughters in Bangladesh for months. “My family cries a lot,” he said. “They can’t pay school fees, and can’t buy enough food.”

He said RAMCO had agreed to a pay raise in local currency.

RAMCO manager Walid BouSaad said the company had no choice because the Lebanese state, its main customer, had stopped paying in dollars late last year, on top of millions the government already owed in arrears. “It is the worker’s right to ask for payment in dollars,” he said. “But some things are out of our hands.”

For Ilahi, the future in Lebanon remains uncertain. “I want to work. But without a solution, there’s no use for me here,” he said. “I will want to leave then. All of us will.” 


Saudi economy can withstand pandemic: Finance minister

Updated 25 May 2020

Saudi economy can withstand pandemic: Finance minister

  • Mohammed Al-Jadaan thanks Saudi leadership for urgent decisions taken to deal with the coronavirus crisis

JEDDAH: The Saudi economy can withstand the coronavirus crisis despite the need to cut spending, Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan said on Saturday. 

“The Saudi economy is able to absorb the decline in revenues and to deal with the budget deficit,” he said, adding that the government “firmly addressed this crisis with all determination, while prioritizing the safety and health of its citizens and residents.”

Al-Jadaan said the government “also worked hard to provide people with their basic needs, secure the necessary resources for health care systems, financially and economically support those most affected by the pandemic, and re-prioritize spending under the current circumstances.”

He thanked the Saudi leadership for “its unlimited support, and for the urgent decisions taken by the government to deal with the coronavirus crisis, including the initiatives it had launched to protect the Kingdom’s economy and support the private sector, its enterprises, low-income individuals and investors.”

The Kingdom “also showed a great sense of responsibility and commitment by holding the extraordinary G20 Summit in the framework of its presidency of the group, and recommending an injection of $7 trillion into the global economy as part of the financial policies, economic measures and security schemes aimed at facing the social, economic and financial repercussions of the pandemic,” he said.

“Saudi Arabia called for the bridging of the funding gap, estimated at $8 billion, to discover and develop new diagnostic tools, treatments and vaccines, while also providing $500 million of the required amount.”

Al-Jadaan congratulated the Saudi leadership on the occasion of Eid, and asked God to bless the Kingdom, protect it from the pandemic, and maintain its security and stability.