Every year, several Ghanaian women migrate to Lebanon in search of work to help their families back home or to better themselves. The opportunity in Lebanon is seemingly unmissable.
Advertised as a sponsorship that helps a person grow financially through employment, the Kafala system, could convince someone unsuspecting young women that greener pastures are in the Gulf State.
The stark reality, however, is that Kafala system couldn’t be farther from the truth as it is a gateway to modern-day slavery; an opportunity for employers to exploit migrant workers.
Workers in the Kafala system have no rights. Their identification documents such as passports are held by agents who assign them to families. Their immigrant worker visas will be revoked if they choose to run. They are owned by their agents and employees, subject to anything and everything.
Sarah, a 26-year-old Ghanaian woman who once threaded beads for shoes and jewelry in Ghana unfortunately fell victim to this system making her a slave. She only recently managed to escape from that kind of bondage with the help of a charity.
This is her story.
“I work [in] a lot of houses. The first day, when I came there, they [first family] received me good, with the husband they were good to me. Only [after] one week, they change… if you make any mistake she will use her shoes to beat you. There were too much.”
“You will not sleep. If she is coming to wake you up she will use her shoes to wake me up. So I decided to run. I ran from the house.”
After she ran from her first domestic job, her agent assigned her a new family. This time it was horrific.
“So I went to another family from there. My office, they gave me some woman. I went there to work too. There was sexual harassment, it was too much.
One of my madam’s brothers…he wanted to sleep with me. He told me, ‘this is $20, take and let me spend my night with you.’ I said no. I didn’t come here because of sex and money. The next day he came when I was in the bathroom scrubbing. He came naked, he didn’t wear anything.”
“He holds a knife and doing like this…,” she drew her hand across her neck.
“…and he said ‘do you know this?’ I said ‘knife’. So he put it on my neck and told me ‘if you tell my sister, I will kill you. Here is a cemetery, I will kill you in the night and throw you there. No one will know that it’s me’.
So I was quiet and listened to him. He told me ‘from today, every day I have to suck your breasts. I have to do this. I have to do this’.”
“That day I cried. I cry. I don’t have anybody to talk to.”
“Today when I am suffering here there is no parent. There is no one to encourage you.”
“I don’t even want to remember because what this guy did to me, it was very painful. It was very painful.”
Sarah says she only went to Lebanon to make money to invest in her beads business back in Ghana but after her ordeal, she went for nothing.
Had she known that her experience in Lebanon would have been full of physical, sexual, and mental abuse, she probably would have remained in Ghana.
Now, however, after escaping the grasp of her employers in Lebanon she has managed to find hiding in Beirut.
Sarah wants to discourage anybody, woman or man from making arrangements to migrate to Lebanon for work, especially under the Kafala system.
“They take us as slaves. I know maybe by now some people are still arranging themselves to come. They shouldn’t come because this journey is do and die. It’s a very, very serious case. They shouldn’t come. This is not a good thing to do,” she said.