By Annie Slemrod
BEIRUT: Some 200 protesters marched in Beirut over the weekend to demand rights for foreign migrant workers.
Shouting slogans such as “The people want an end to racism” and “Stop modern slavery,” the multinational group weaved around Hamra and Sanayeh on International Workers’ Day. Between 300,000 and 1 million foreign workers live in the country, according to estimates. This includes about 200,000 domestic foreign workers. Human Rights Watch has said many workers face forced confinement, long hours, and physical and sexual abuse.
The Migrant Workers Task Force, the Anti-Racism Movement and other cooperating organizations organized Sunday’s march. Posters publicizing the event said the protest would “demand fair labor laws for all.”
One of the organizers of the march, which began at Saint Francis Church in Hamra, was Dipendra Uprety, chief advisor of the Non-Resident Nepali Association. “We are workers but we are not slaves,” he said. “We have a right to be respected and protected.”
Uprety said that although “the employee has a legal right to receive a translator” in criminal investigations or proceedings, this is often not the reality. He also said that a majority of domestic workers do not receive their legally mandated day off.
Rahel, a protester from Ethiopia who works as a cleaner and has lived in Lebanon for seven years, said she was there “to protest for migrant workers, for all of us, for respect … I have seen many girls beaten by their employers … [they] are not treated like humans.”
Protesters hailed from a variety of countries, including Nepal, the Philippines, Ethiopia, Sudan, Madagascar and Lebanon, and the signs and chants were multilingual.
Signs held by the marchers included “Stop Wage Slavery,” “Treat Us With Humanity,” and “Investigate the Deaths of All Migrant Workers Now.”
The marchers stopped for a minute of silence outside an apartment building in Sanayeh, where Theresa Otero Seda, a domestic worker from the Philippines, died in January 2010. Seda fell from the building’s seventh story window in an apparent suicide attempt.