Lebanon’s dollar crisis hits migrants workers

Migrant workers from Bangladesh, working for waste management company RAMCO, inside their dormitory at a company facility in Biakout, near Beirut, Lebanon. The dollar crisis has affected migrant labor especially badly in Lebanon. (Reuters)
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Updated 23 May 2020

Lebanon’s dollar crisis hits migrants workers

  • International labor force bears the brunt of Beirut’s economic woes, as the economy reels from currency and virus crises

BEIRUT: Temitope cannot find work in Lebanon since the Nigerian domestic worker escaped her employer’s house last month.

With Lebanon in deep financial crisis and dollars in short supply, people have less money to spend on help. And with Beirut airport shut under a coronavirus lockdown, Temitope can’t go back home even if she tries.

“I’m very afraid. There’s not a day that I don’t cry ... without any money even to eat now,” said Temitope, who climbed down a building after her employer beat her until she bled. She now lives with friends, relying on any cash they can give her.

Like many African and Asian women in Lebanon, Temitope, a mother of two, was recruited for work and came so she could send money home to her family.

But dollar shortages piling pressure on hundreds of thousands of migrant workers in Lebanon have left some stranded in the streets and many begging to go home. Rights groups warn this puts workers at risk of abuse and trauma.

Embassy and NGO shelters are saturated.

Since Lebanon plunged into crisis late last year, the local currency has lost more than half its value. Prices have soared as more Lebanese slide into poverty.

The coronavirus pandemic has also hampered government efforts to repatriate workers via their embassies, and even those flights require payment in dollars.

“There’s more need than ever before for shelters...for those who lost jobs and have no place else to go,” said Zeina Mezher of the International Labour Organization.

Activist groups say they field regular phone calls from unpaid domestic workers who have been kicked out of their accomodation or escaped their employer’s households.

Migrant workers form the backbone of sectors like waste collection and housekeeping in Lebanon, where many barely have any rights, face widespread racism and sometimes commit suicide.

Most women work as maids under a sponsorship system called “kafala” that even the former labor minister likened to slavery. It prevents them from leaving without the employer’s consent, with salaries as low as $150 a month.

Last month, police interrogated a Lebanese man who tried to sell his Nigerian housekeeper for $1,000 on the social media site Facebook.

“The crises, whether it’s coronavirus or the economy, expose the flaws in the kafala system,” Mezher said.

The prime minister’s wife sparked controversy last week when she called on Lebanese people facing rising unemployment to take up jobs usually filled by foreigners like housekeeper or doorman.

Bangladeshi trash collectors went on strike for weeks after the firm managing waste in Beirut, RAMCO, switched to paying them in Lebanese pounds, undermining the value of their wages.

When workers stopped garbage trucks from going out in protest last week, riot police arrived, firing smoke grenades at some and beating up others.

Mohamad Ilahi, one of the workers, has not sent money to his wife and two daughters in Bangladesh for months. “My family cries a lot,” he said. “They can’t pay school fees, and can’t buy enough food.”

He said RAMCO had agreed to a pay raise in local currency.

RAMCO manager Walid BouSaad said the company had no choice because the Lebanese state, its main customer, had stopped paying in dollars late last year, on top of millions the government already owed in arrears. “It is the worker’s right to ask for payment in dollars,” he said. “But some things are out of our hands.”

For Ilahi, the future in Lebanon remains uncertain. “I want to work. But without a solution, there’s no use for me here,” he said. “I will want to leave then. All of us will.” 


UAE dives into Lake Manzala project

Updated 21 September 2020

UAE dives into Lake Manzala project

  • Egyptian campaign aims to return the lake to its previous state and revive local fishing industry

CAIRO: The UAE National Marine Dredging Company (NMDC) has announced that it won the rights to the expansion project of Lake Manzala in Egypt, valued at 600 million UAE dirhams ($163 million).

The company’s announcement of the new project came following a disclosure published on the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange website. It ensures compliance with the principle of disclosure and transparency in force in the UAE.

Lake Manzala is one of Egypt’s largest natural lakes. It is known for its potential fishing opportunities, as it has the basis for high fish stocks due to natural nutrients and a moderate climate throughout the year. It produces about half of the natural fish production in lakes.

The lake has witnessed neglect in recent years, losing much of its importance and wealth. In May 2017 Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi launched a national project to develop Egyptian lakes, with a key focus on Lake Manzala.

NMDC said in a statement that winning the project came through its partnership with the Egyptian-Emirati Challenge Company. It said that it will take about two years to implement the project.

NMDC is one of the leading companies in the field of dredging, land reclamation and civil and marine construction in the Middle East. The Lake Manzala development project aims to improve the quality of water to restore free fishing and return the lake to its previous state, which will boost the local market and export output.

President El-Sisi said that Lake Manzala will contribute to enhancing Egypt’s fishing industry, and export operations will be activated after its full development. He directed the border governorates, in coordination with the Ministry of Interior and the Armed Forces, to remove all encroachments and criminal outposts on the lake.

Several days ago, Dakahlia governorate completed a difficult operation to remove encroachments on the lake. A large campaign that used Armed Forces Engineering Authority equipment removed 301 houses in the Abdo El-Salhy area in El-Matareya city, known as the “fishermen’s land,” which was built on areas that were filled in from the lake. The operation occurred after local fishermen were persuaded to obtain compensation for vacating their houses.

Magdy Zaher, executive director of Manzala Lake, said that the engineering authority used 320 excavators and 20 imported suction dredgers to work in the lake.

The authority dredged the upper islands isolated from the water with the help of an Emirati bulldozing company to increase the efficiency and purification of Lake Manzala.

Zaher said the lake project will require several steps.

The most important is the removal of encroachments on the water surface and doubling its area to 250,000 feddans, he said. Dredging and deepening the lake, opening the gates and extending the radial channels to allow Mediterranean waters to enter the lake will follow, he added.

A safety belt will come in the form of a road 80 km long and 30 meters wide, which will surround the lake and prevent future encroachments. It will also divert the course of the Bahr El-Baqar water treatment plant, which pours 12 million cubic meters of sanitary, industrial and agricultural drainage into the lake, Zaher said.