Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

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LEBANON: Philippine maids just want to go home

March 30, 2009 |  1:15 pm

Lebanon-philippine Roxanne Beroda has been working as a housekeeper in Lebanon for nine years, enduring long hours and even longer periods of separation from her three children as she worked to pay for their education back in the Philippines. 

She has not seen her family in more than two years, and she may have to wait even longer if the current ban on sending Philippine workers to Lebanon is upheld. 

“It’s very hard, especially for me because today is my daughter's high school graduation,” she said. “I wanted to go [back to the Philippines], but I’m afraid I can’t come back [to Lebanon], that’s why I cannot go.”

The Philippine government is considering lifting the three-year ban in an effort to provide more job opportunities.

But the move has received mixed reactions from workers who resent the travel restrictions and advocacy groups concerned with their safety. 

Although the ban was originally prompted by safety concerns stemming from Israel's summer 2006 war with Hezbollah, it has prevented many Philippine workers, both legal and illegal, from visiting home out of fear they will not be allowed to return to Lebanon. 

Some advocacy groups also have come out against the measure, citing Lebanon’s political instability and widespread worker abuse at the hands of employers. 

Since its implementation, the ban has become a tool for renegotiating labor conditions in Lebanon, which have been condemned by local and international human rights organizations repeatedly over the years.

In August, Human Rights Watch published a report alleging that on average one domestic worker dies in Lebanon every week, mostly as a result of suicides and botched escape attempts. 

John Leonard Monterona, the regional coordinator Migrante-Middle East, a Philippine workers advocacy organization, sent a statement to the Phillipine Daily Inquirer emphasizing the group's support for the ban. 

“Migrante maintains that the primordial considerations in sending our people to work abroad are their safety and security, as well as the protection of their labor rights and welfare, including the provision of humane, safe living and working conditions, and decent pay and other labor rights as guaranteed by the international labor standards,” the statement said. 

The Philippine Star quoted Labor Secretary Marianito Roque saying that “there is no final agreement yet,” and that lifting the ban is contingent on Lebanon agreeing to certain conditions regarding the hiring and treatment of Philippine workers, such as a minimum monthly salary of $400 and measures to ensure the safety and welfare of workers. 

A similar ban on sending workers to Jordan was upheld in October based on employers’ refusal to comply with the new requirements, according to the Daily Star of Lebanon

Beroda and several other Philippine workers who spoke to Babylon & Beyond think it is the workers, however, and not the employers who are suffering under the ban. 

“Maybe next year if the ban is finished I will go home,” Beroda said. “We miss our families.” 

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: Francis, 30, a maid from the Philippines who fled her Jordanian employer's home, is seen in the basement shelter at the Philippine Embassy, showing her burned arm. After many reports of mistreatment, the Philippines imposed a ban on sending more workers to Jordan and Lebanon. Credit: Nader Daoud

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