A friend tells you about a job opportunity in Lebanon.

You are told that you will be paid a good amount in USD.
You plan to use your salary to build a home, continue your education, send your kids to school, and, maybe, save a little.

You meet with a “middle man”,

he promises you a respectable salary, accommodation and flexible working hours.
But first, you have to pay a few hundred dollars for all the paperwork.

You arrive to the host country;

you meet your employers.
You sign a new contract; it is in Arabic which you can’t read but they tell you it is the same as the one you have signed in your home country.
Your employer takes your passport.
They say it is for “safe keeping”.
It feels unsafe, but you can’t do anything.

The work is a huge disappointment.

It is nothing like what you were told.
You were promised a 6-day working week, an 8-hour working day for a salary of 300USD a month.
But really, you are working 12-hour days, 7 days a week. You are being paid half as much as promised, and sometimes not at all.

You cannot change the employer.

In fact, you need your employer’s permission to transfer jobs or end employment.

You decide to run away.

You wait until your employers go to sleep, take your few belongings and, helped by a friend met online, you leave without your passport.
You are now undocumented and your stay in the country is illegal.
You start working as a housemaid in various homes.
You cumulate many jobs in the same day to make a decent salary.
You are afraid to be controlled by the police and move carefully.
At night, you sleep in an overcrowded room with other migrant workers.
When the Covid-19 pandemic unfolds, you find yourself workless. You cannot pay the rent of your bed, buy food, let alone support your family back home.

You have no days off…

and you don’t feel it’s safe to go to a police station.
You try to find help online. A friend tells you to contact an association that helps migrant domestic workers.
You manage to get in touch with them and explain your situation. They tell you that your best option is to call your embassy.

You reach out to the embassy.

They tell you that you have signed a contract and that you should stay in your current work until your contract expires.
They take your name but advise you to rather find an arrangement with your employer.
You don’t feel that you were really helped.

You go back to the employer.

You are overworked and underpaid. You manage to send some money to your family back home but there is not much left for you to save.
2 years later, your contract ends, you return to your home country, but soon, you think of going back, as you need work. You have not learned any new skill and lack the capital necessary to start any small business.

You register your name for repatriation,

When your turn comes, you learn that your previous employers have filled a lawsuit against you when you ran away from their place. They are accusing you of having stolen a huge amount of money. The embassy people tell you that you cannot travel, unless the lawsuit is cleared.
You have no funds to engage a lawyer or to pay any penalty.
You go online and search for people who have encountered the same problem.

At the community center,

they provide you with food, housing and the company of people who have had the same experience as yours.
You learn the skills of soapmaking and accounting, and you volunteer to help others as well.
The Center helps you in your lawsuit.
Finally, your lawsuit is dropped and you get a ticket to travel back home.

You are back in your home country.

You were not able to save money.
You have gone through an experience of exploitation and have faced much adversity.

You have some options:

Try to find a job in your home country with the skills you have acquired or… try to immigrate to another country.
Meanwhile, many young women are embarking on the same journey you made a few years ago.

You actively work to raise awareness regarding the Kafala System and warn the young women planning to embark on this journey about what to expect.
You join an NGO working on the empowerment of young women and calling for the reforming of this system.

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This project is part of the global initiative
“Transparency and media freedom – Crisis resilience in the pandemic”

This project is the result of a workshop of DW Akademie. All views expressed in this project are those of the author and do not reflect the views of Deutsche Welle.

Story: Youssef Hajj Ali
Arabic to English Translation: Sabah Jalloul
Illustration: Tharwa Zeitoun
Photographs: Hussein baydoun
Video: Ali Chiran, Fourate Chahal El Rekaby
Design: Ibrahim Charara
Development: Jaafar Charara, Rawan Houri

Editor: Ibrahim Charara