Lebanon, shaken since October 17 by a popular uprising of unprecedented scale, is also facing an economic crisis in all sectors and financial difficulties affecting the banks. Since the dispute began, 160,000 people have reportedly lost their jobs, and hundreds of businesses have closed. A large part of migrant workers also suffers from the situation.
From our correspondent in Lebanon,
The economic crisis is hitting the most vulnerable of the Lebanese, but also a large part of the 250,000 migrant workers, often employed as domestic staff.
The migrant worker population is thus the most affected. With the restrictions imposed by banks on the withdrawal of hard currency, and the resulting shortage of dollars, many employers have started to pay wages in Lebanese pounds, according to the official rate, i.e. 1 500 pounds for a dollar. But on the parallel market, the dollar is 30% more expensive. This means that the wages of migrant workers, mainly from Ethiopia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and other African countries, have lost a third of their value.
Because of this situation , a large number of workers are hesitant to send money to their families, especially since money transfer agencies have been demanding, since the beginning of December, that transfers be made in dollars. This forces migrant workers to buy green tickets on the parallel market, at 30% more expensive.
Despite the existence of associations and NGOs which defend their rights, foreign labor remains on its own in this period of crisis which also affects all Lebanese. Moreover, the Kafala system , which has been widely criticized around the world, links workers to their employer because it prevents them from finding other employment. This is a dead end situation, especially since by paying wages in Lebanese pounds at the official rate, the bosses do not break any law.
Faced with these difficulties, Lebanon is no longer an attractive market for this workforce looking for foreign currency to send them to their families who have stayed in the country. Departures are accelerating. All flights departing for Ethiopia, Sri Lanka or the Philippines are full, which is rare at this time of the year. Many leave on their own initiative, others are dismissed by their employers, who can no longer afford to pay their salaries, which amount to between 200 and 400 dollars per month.
The Embassy of the Philippines announced the organization of an airlift next February for the repatriation, at the expense of the Manila government, of migrant workers who wish to return to the country. Within days, more than a thousand people, mostly women, registered their names. Lebanon is emptying of its foreign workers, who transfer more than 700 million dollars each year to their respective countries. Today it is the Lebanese who are desperately seeking dollars.
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