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LEBANON: Clubs ban African, Asian maids from swimming pools

July 29, 2009 |  7:50 am

 Seventeen out of Lebanon's 30 or so beach clubs do not allow migrant guest workers from Asia and Africa in their swimming pools, and some even deny them entrance outright, Human Rights Watch researcher Nadim Houry told Maysam Ali of the news website Now Lebanon last week.

Houry's comments come at the height of Lebanon's oppressive summer heat, when locals and tourists alike flood the beaches and pools seeking relief from the blazing sun and humidity.

Lebanon is regularly criticized for its human rights record regarding  migrant guest workers, mostly women from the Philippines and East Africa who work as maids and nannies for Lebanese families.

The women often accompany their employers to beach clubs as maids, but are rarely allowed in on their own as guests or else are made to feel unwelcome.

“I once went to a resort in Batroun, and even though I was with Lebanese friends, I felt unwanted because of my color,” said Kawkab Tessaye, a 27-year-old Ethiopian domestic worker, who told Now Lebanon that she was subjected to rude stares from fellow beachgoers.

Rumors of discrimination at swimming pools have been circulating for several years, but conducting a comprehensive investigation has proven time-consuming. According to Houry's research, at least one resort does not even allow African and Asian domestic workers to wear bathing suits.

Picture 1

Abuse of migrant workers is endemic in Lebanon. Once they enter the country, the women are often forced to sign contracts in Arabic relinquishing their rights and binding themselves to the agency that arranged for their travel and visa. 

Employers sometimes withhold already meager wages and confiscate passports to prevent the women from running away, and local newspapers are filled with reports of suspicious deaths of foreign maids, many of whom allegedly fall while cleaning windows or commit suicide.

In 2005, filmmaker Carol Mansour produced a documentary on the conditions that foreign workers encounter in Lebanon titled "Maid in Lebanon," a excerpt of which can be seen here.

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

Photo: Video image from a trailer for the documentary "Maid in Lebanon."

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