After a lull throughout most of 2015 and 2016, General Security has resumed deporting foreign domestic workers who have had children in Lebanon, Human Rights Watch reported Tuesday. Since last summer, Lebanese authorities have reportedly detained at least 21 migrant domestic workers with children, claiming that the workers had given birth in the country, were not living with their employers or both.
“We have been receiving a lot of cases like this recently,” Roula Hamati, a researcher at the migrant rights advocacy group Insan Association told The Daily Star.
According to a Human Rights Watch statement, none of the detained women had violated the technical rules or terms of their visas by working for multiple employers.
When contacted for comment, a source at General Security would not discuss the allegation that the directorate is deporting workers purely on the basis of having had a child while in Lebanon. However, he noted that there were many rules that currently govern how foreign workers are allowed to live in the country
Moreover, the source dismissed the severity of the allegation, claiming that most domestic workers come to Lebanon alone. “I don’t think it’s a big problem,” the source said. “If they are married, they will come alone. They will leave the children with others in their home country, with their husband or family.”
The source also noted that, in their opinion, Lebanese families would be unlikely to continue to sponsor migrant workers with children. “In that situation they would be responsible for feeding and paying for more people.”
Human Rights Watch reported that in a statement sent to them last week, General Security said that while they would not deport domestic workers who brought children with them, giving birth to a child in Lebanon would, for a migrant domestic worker, “be difficult to achieve without violating many laws and regulations.”
In a previous interview with The Daily Star, General Security head Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim expressed similar sentiments. “There is a law and a system in Lebanon and there are residency conditions for foreigners,” he said. “It is our duty to deport anyone who violates these conditions.”
But according to Bassam Khawaja, a Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch, there is little information available as to why exactly General Security restarted deportations of this particular category of workers. The legal authority security forces are acting under is also unclear and General Security has not disclosed the exact nature of the infraction.
“Part of it comes from a mentality where there is an enormous amount of control exerted over domestic workers’ lives,” Khawaja told The Daily Star – even in instances where there is no legal obligation to do so. “Employers feel like they have the authority to have control over fundamental life decisions – children, relationships, family,” Khawaja said.
He highlighted examples, including the de-facto requirement that domestic workers live in the houses of their employers, despite the fact that there is no law requiring them to do so. “General Security enforces that requirement,” he said.
Insan’s Hamati corroborated the strange legal territory that many domestic workers find themselves in. “These are not laws. There’s nothing in the law that says domestic workers can’t have kids in Lebanon,” she said. “This was all done in a private way. General Security told us that there was a directive to deport people, but the law does not require that they do that.”
Regardless of the legality of the situation, Khawaja said, the effects of enforcement have been dramatic. “This is really destructive for people’s lives on a fundamental level,” he said. “Kids are out of school, families are split up and people are out of work. There’s an enormous amount of pain and sadness, really for nothing.”