Friday, September 9, 2011

The Daily Star: Migrant workers to get warmer welcome

September 09, 2011, By Olivia Alabaster, The Daily Star

BEIRUT: Migrant workers will now receive information packs on their rights and responsibilities upon arrival in Beirut, and airport staff will undergo training on how to recognize vulnerable people, General Security announced Thursday.

Staff at Beirut Rafik Hariri International Airport will attend workshops, held by the nongovernmental organization Caritas, on migrant rights, how best to deal with migrant workers when they arrive in Lebanon and how to get them the relevant help if they appear to need it.

Dima Haddad, project manager at Caritas Migrants Center, said staff will be instructed on how to notice certain behavior. “Airport staff will receive training on how to detect vulnerable people, anyone who might have been trafficked, for example,” Haddad said.

The designated areas for migrant workers, upon arrival at the airport, have also been redecorated, in an effort to create a more welcoming atmosphere.

“The rooms at the airport, assigned for migrant workers, have been completely renovated as well. They are human spaces now,” she added.

Newly arrived migrant workers will also receive information packs – which are also aimed at their Lebanese employers – to help them settle into life in Lebanon.

The packs – available in nine languages – outline a migrant worker’s rights, including the right to one day off every week, and the right to rest; the right to a “clear employment contract in an understandable language”; the right to protection from arbitrary arrest and detention; the right to protection from all forms of exploitation, violence and sexual harassment; and the right to equality before the Lebanese law.

Introductory language guides are also included, which feature sections on practical terminology such as food preparation and household tasks but also personal and legal phrases, such as “I will speak to the agency,” “Where is my salary?” and “Don’t hit me.”

The packs also provide information about Lebanon for the migrant workers and basic facts about the culture and customs of the worker’s home country for their employers.

The booklet on Madagascar, for example, outlines topics such the country’s history, religious composition, styles of dress, marriage traditions and food. “Spicy curries are popular, as are numerous exquisite French dishes,” it reads.

“The information packs we provide will facilitate the reintegration into society of migrant workers,” Haddad said.

The packs also contain information on the best people to contact, should migrant workers face any problems while in Lebanon, to help prevent them “falling into gangs,” she added.

Brig. Maarouf Itani, representing Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim, head of General Security, spoke at the launch, and said the steps revealed the government’s ongoing cooperation with Caritas to “offer the necessary guidelines to foreign workers and the implementation of the human rights charter and relevant laws, especially after the passage of the human trafficking law.”

Parliament recently passed the first comprehensive law to criminalize human trafficking in Lebanon. Human rights groups have expressed concern that many migrant workers are brought into the country against their will, or under false pretenses, and are often prohibited from leaving the country once they arrive.

Itani also said that the introduction of the training program, and the information packs, revealed a will to “improve a level of services and offering a better picture of Lebanon and its institutions by affirming the respect of the rights of foreign nationals, whatever their nationality or race.”

In exchange for this, he said, foreign nationals must also increase “respect for Lebanese laws and regulations.”

There are thought to be several hundred thousand foreign migrant workers in Lebanon, including around 200,000 domestic workers.

Calls are growing, from civil society organizations and human rights groups, for the Lebanese government to do more to protect migrant workers from exploitation and abuse.

The Philippines, Ethiopia, Nepal and Madagascar currently all have a ban on their citizens traveling to Lebanon for work, citing such living conditions.

The first training session, for 20 airport staff will begin Sept. 13.

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