Racial intolerance in Lebanon and the Middle East, is indeed a pervasive problem which especially affects migrant domestic workers and refugees. In Lebanon, manifestations of racism and human right abuses are unfortunately prevalent and perpetuated due to the limited legal assistance provided to victims, the weakness and the indifference of civil society factors in dealing with these phenomena, and the absence of a criminalizing and binding law that controls racist practices and human right abuses.
The first step in reforming and creating a system that supports its victims and criminalizes offenders is creating awareness. This is something that has been largely missing in Lebanon. But thankfully racial intolerant practices are now being unearthed and awareness is being raised through hunger strikes and movements like the Anti-Racism Movement (ARM) which highlight several examples of racist practices such as tourist resorts that place signs banning “radios, foods and maids” and that deny entry of customers because of their skin color.
“We have monitored more than 15 resorts that follow the same traditions and practices of racism against non-whites in Lebanon, reminiscent of the era of apartheid in South Africa, blatant racism in the United States,” said the campaign’s spokesperson at IndyACT, Aimee Razanjay.
“The action today is the beginning of a series similar actions to monitor and document such practices and to inform the Lebanese society of the extent of their contribution to perpetuating the racist system in Lebanon,” added Aimee.
What happens indoors is even more ghastly: “Maid in Lebanon” is an eye opening documentary that highlights the morbid truth behind an abusive domestic work industry in Lebanon, where several cases of suicide and rape have been largely unnoticed.
It is only recently that some of these stories have reached the tabloids, such as the viral video of the publicly mistreated Ethiopian woman in Beirut who days after committed suicide. The sad truth is that this is only the tip of the iceberg: for decades many migrants have been treated as invisible and anonymous commodities.
In his revealing report on Al Jazeera, Khaled A Beydoun describes a situation akin to classic slavery where maids are being made to live in appalling conditions and several are denied the opportunity to travel home for vacation due to tallied debts, confiscation of their passports and travel documents and lack of funds.
“While the images of silent and submissive African maids trapped inside cosmopolitan Beirut apartments, condos and villas seemed juxtaposed at first, the modern portrait of Middle Eastern slavery – I gradually discovered through on-the-ground research, interviewing nearly 50 maids, and an examination of Lebanese labour laws and observance of human rights – was a common picture and practice,” Khaled remarks.
He adds “What I found was an ugly underbelly of rape, subjugation, violence and comprehensive dehumanisation – underlined by a pervasive and entrenched racism toward brown and black people – which looked, smelled and felt like slavery.”
The fulcrum of the issue is that labor and criminal laws need to be reformed to enforce human rights mechanisms, protect victims and prosecute offenders. The Lebanese government and its people are yet to demonstrate a genuine cultural commitment to human rights but it looks like things are moving , slowly, towards a better direction.
Image of abused woman from Shutterstock