BEIRUT: Hundreds of Filipinos, most of them female domestic workers, flocked to their embassy in Lebanon on Thursday (Dec 5) to sign up for free repatriation from the crisis-hit country.
The embassy issued a statement linking its offer of a free ticket home to Lebanon's free-falling economy.
"More than 1,000 Filipinos, mostly women with some children in tow, arrived in droves to the Philippine embassy in Beirut to register for free mass repatriation scheduled in February next year," a statement said.
An estimated quarter of a million domestic workers live in Lebanon, in conditions that have repeatedly been condemned by their countries of origin and rights group.
A sponsorship system known as "kafala" leaves maids, nannies and carers outside the remit of Lebanon's labour law, and at the mercy of their employers.
Cases of abuses are reported regularly, with workers often unable to obtain their rights or even flee because all their money and travel documents are held by their employers.
Hailing mostly from the Philipines, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, some make as little as US$150 a month.
The Lebanese pound's tumbling value on the black market in recent weeks has led many employers to pay their domestic workers in the local currency.
Others have been fired by employers who can no longer afford their services, leaving foreign workers stranded in Lebanon with no income.
The embassy statement said that some workers "have recently lost jobs and income opportunities during these trying times in Lebanon".
Mohanna Ishak, a lawyer with the Kafa NGO that assists domestic workers, said that the severe economic downturn risked leading to more abuses.
"The financial and psychological stress the Lebanese are under risks have repercussions on domestic workers," she said, saying they their salaries may go unpaid or they could face "more verbal and physical violence."
Lebanon has been rocked by seven weeks of an unprecedented protest movement demanding an end to corruption and the wholesale removal of the current political elite.
The campaign to abolish the "kafala" system has been widely supported by protesters.