Friday, March 25, 2011

Lebanese society is deeply racist and must tackle discrimination, report says

By Simona Sikimic, Daily Star staff, Tuesday, March 22, 2011

BEIRUT: An EU-funded report released Monday has criticized Lebanese society for rampant racism perpetrated against an estimated 1 million migrant workers in the country and upheld by gaps and loopholes in national law.

“There is an urgent need for developing meaningful strategies to address racist harassment, stereotyping and discrimination,” said the “Culture of Racism in Lebanon” study compiled by Italian Solidarity in the World (COSV) and a collection of leading Lebanese human rights NGOs.

Lebanese authorities must clearly define racism in legislation, identify the number of cases, set out legal consequences and judicial mechanisms to prosecute
racist behavior, and establish an independent equality commission to monitor abuses, the report said.

“Authorities must publicly acknowledge new laws and policy regarding discrimination on the basis of ethnicity [and] color,” said Charles Nasrallah, the director of Insan Association, which hosted the report launch.

The study also recommends holding racial stereotyping workshops and training for military and law enforcement personnel, and highlights the need to introduce greater cooperation between various governmental and non-governmental institutions.

“In the absence of a unified civil law, [racial discrimination and discrimination against foreigners] will continue,” Lebanese lawyer Amal Takiedine said in the report. “The Lebanese legal system follows different rules of law that vary from one community to the other. It is a situation that naturally leads to inequality among people.”

The report suggests that ingrained social racism, combined with classism, have created a situation where the vast majority of non-white visitors to, and workers in Lebanon, are subject to some kind of discrimination.

More than 90 percent of Iraqi and Sudanese refugees in Lebanon report that they experience racism, while more than 80 percent of Arab, African and Asian students, professors and tourists claim they are treated worse than their white counterparts, the study found.

Even those of mixed Lebanese origin experience mistreatment, and the report cites instances where darker-skinned Lebanese are arbitrarily arrested at checkpoints.

It is estimated that one in four people in Lebanon are foreign migrant workers. A significant proportion of these work on so-called “sponsorship system” which leaves them at the mercy of their employer and affords them little protection.

Consequently, abuses such as confiscation of passports, non-payment of wages and physical or even sexual violence are thought to be common. More than 70 percent of female domestic workers interviewed by the report authors reported being widely deceived by their employment agency.

“At least fifty to sixty women enter Lebanon from Nepal every day to work as domestic workers,” said domestic worker and Nepalese community leader Dipendra Upety.

Because of the poor conditions experienced by the 200,000 estimated female domestic workers, in 2010 the Madagascan and Nepalese governments banned workers travelling to Lebanon. The Philippines has had a ban in place since 2006.

Dima, a 19-year-old maid from Madagascar, recounts her harrowing experience in the report, which prompted her to run away from her place of employment. She graphically recalls being raped by her male employer, who occasionally also invited other male friends to “take turns.”

“Instead of being treated like human beings they are viewed as commodities,” the report said.

There are fewer statistics regarding the number of male migrant workers, who also face widespread discrimination. However they are on the whole allowed more freedom and privileges.

The report is part of the “Multimedia Virtual Space for Human Rights” project and was published to coincide with the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination commemorated on March 21.

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