Statement: Impact of COVID-19 on the human rights of female migrant domestic workers in the Middle East

ACHRS follows with serious concern the unprecedented impact of COVID-19 on the human rights of vulnerable migrants in the Middle East. The pandemic is making precarious and marginalized people more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, especially female migrant domestic workers.

In the Middle East, relations with their employer are regulated by the “Kafala”, a restrictive sponsorship system binding a migrant worker’s immigration status to her employer. It can amount to serious human rights violations, such as human trafficking, forced labor, discrimination and different types of gender-based violence (GBV) often committed with impunity due to the lack of legal protections.

ACHRS stands in solidarity with female migrant domestic workers who are more exposed to COVID-19. As Jordan, Lebanon and the Gulf countries have imposed lockdowns, curfews and strict social distancing measures, female migrant domestic workers have had to take on extra care duties, including cleaning and disinfecting homes as well as taking care of infected employers and their families without adequate protective equipment. When a migrant domestic worker does contract the virus, her employer may kick her out of the household leaving her with no income and limited (or no) access to health services.

Many employers have cut wages, and in some cases migrant domestic workers have not been paid at all. Unable to leave the country, due to travel restrictions, many have ended up on the streets, destitute and desperate. Shocking videos of migrant women hanging from balconies threatening to kill themselves and stories of abused unpaid workers have been shared on social media, sparking outrage from international media and civil society.

ACHRS expresses concerns about increased risks of deportation for both documented and undocumented female migrant domestic workers. According to Amnesty International, the Qatari authorities have recently rounded up and deported dozens of migrant workers after telling them they were going to take a COVID-19 test.

ACHRS recalls that the human rights of migrant domestic workers must be respected and protected at all times, including access to health, the right to decent work and social protection, non-discrimination and protection against GBV. Under International Human Rights Laws, States have an obligation not only to abstain from committing human rights violations, but also to take concrete measures to ensure the fulfillment of these rights and protect individuals from human rights abuses.

ACHRS calls upon Jordan, Lebanon and the Golf countries to protect and provide or facilitate access to urgent assistance for vulnerable female migrant domestic workers, including cash assistance, 24/7 free of charge hotline, safety planning, shelter, urgent food assistance and health care services. Moreover, these countries should strengthen legal and social protections for victims of human rights violations and educate employers on their obligations to respect and protect the safety and dignity of migrant domestic workers by ensuring decent work standards, an eight-hour working week, a weekly day off and providing adequate protective equipment.

ACHRS strongly condemns human rights violations perpetrated against female migrant domestic workers in the Middle east and encourages the United Nations, the international community and human rights defenders to advocate for the respect, protection and fulfilment of migrant worker rights.

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