Lebanon is a source and destination country for women and children who are subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. The country is also a transit point for Eastern European women and children subjected to sex trafficking in other Middle Eastern countries. Women from Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Ethiopia, Kenya, Bangladesh, Nepal, Madagascar, Congo, Togo, Cameroon, and Nigeria, who travel to Lebanon with the assistance of recruitment agencies to work in domestic service, are often subjected to conditions indicative of forced labor, including withholding of passports, nonpayment of wages, threat of arrest and deportation, restrictions on movement, verbal abuse, and physical assault. Workers who leave their employers’ houses without permission or a “release paper” automatically forfeit their legal status; in order to be legal, a change in their sponsorship must be pre-arranged and approved by the General Directorate for General Security (SG), the government agency responsible for the entry, residency, and departure of foreign workers. Some employers in Lebanon threaten workers with the loss of legal immigration status in order to keep them in forced labor and, in some cases, kept foreign domestic workers confined in residences for years. A highly publicized case of an Ethiopian domestic worker who was publicly beaten by a Lebanese recruitment agent in March 2012 exemplifies the abuse suffered by domestic workers in Lebanon. The worker committed suicide shortly after the incident was reported in the media.
The government’s artiste visa program facilitates the entry of women from Eastern Europe, the Dominican Republic, Morocco, and Tunisia on three-month visas to work as dancers in Lebanon’s adult entertainment industry; 5,934 women entered Lebanon in 2012 under this visa program, which sustains a significant sex trade and enables forced prostitution through such practices as withholding of passports and wages, restrictions on movement, and physical and sexual abuse. Some Syrian women may be forced to engage in street prostitution, and underage Syrian girls are reportedly brought to Lebanon for the purpose of prostitution, including through the guise of early marriage. Anecdotal reporting suggests that Syrian refugee women and children who fled to Lebanon are at an increased risk of sex trafficking due to their vulnerable financial situation; NGOs report an increase in Syrian children engaging in street begging, some of which may be forced. Anecdotal information indicates that Lebanese children are victims of forced labor within the country, particularly in street begging, as well as commercial sexual exploitation facilitated by male pimps, husbands, and “boyfriends,” and at times through early marriage. Small numbers of Lebanese girls may be taken to other Arab countries for exploitation in prostitution.
The Government of Lebanon does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Despite these modest measures, the government did not show evidence of increasing overall efforts to address human trafficking over the previous reporting period; therefore, Lebanon is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for a second consecutive year. The government conducted investigations of human trafficking and possibly some prosecutions, but for another year did not report convicting any trafficking offenders or officials complicit in human trafficking. The government allocated minimal resources to protecting victims and did not have victim protection policies in place. Victims of trafficking, including domestic workers who ran away from abusive employers and women holding artiste visas, continued to be subject to arrest, detention, and deportation.
Recommendations for Lebanon: Implement the anti-trafficking law by investigating and prosecuting trafficking offenses, and convicting and punishing trafficking offenders, including officials complicit in human trafficking; enact the labor law amendment extending legal protections to foreign workers and the draft law providing increased labor protections to domestic workers, including foreign domestic workers; enforce the law prohibiting the confiscation of passports belonging to foreign migrants in Lebanon; provide protection to victims, as required by the anti-trafficking law; train police, judges, prosecutors, and other government officials about the anti-trafficking law and how to enforce it; provide services such as shelter, access to legal aid and interpretation, and counseling to migrant workers and Lebanese nationals who are victims of forced labor and forced prostitution; develop and institute formal procedures to identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable populations, such as women holding artiste visas and domestic workers who have escaped abusive employers; ensure that identified victims of trafficking are promptly referred to protection services rather than detained for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, such as immigration violations or prostitution; conduct anti-trafficking public awareness campaigns that include raising awareness of the existence and utility of the Ministry of Labor’s complaints office and hotline, and enhance the quality of services provided by that hotline; and amend the unified employment contract for domestic workers to recognize the worker’s right to leave his or her employer’s house during time off and to retain his or her passport.
The government demonstrated limited anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the reporting period. Lebanon’s 2011 anti-trafficking law, Number 164, prohibits all forms of trafficking. Prescribed penalties for sex trafficking and forced labor range from five to 15 years’ imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. A prosecutor reported that internal security forces were often reluctant to arrest parents for trafficking their children due to a lack of social services available should the child be removed from the family. Given the significant hurdles to pursuing criminal complaints in the Lebanese court system and victims’ lack of adequate legal representation and knowledge of their rights, foreign victims who had the opportunity to do so opted for quick administrative settlements followed by repatriation. Evidence suggested, however, that many cases were not resolved, and trafficking victims were deported without receiving any wages. A labor law amendment that would extend legal protections to foreign workers had not been submitted to the cabinet by the Ministry of Labor, nor did the amendment cover foreign and Lebanese domestic workers.
The Ministries of Labor and Justice and the SG provided information on their anti-trafficking efforts, but the data was incomplete and reporting was not consistent across agencies. The Internal Security Forces (ISF) and the SG reportedly investigated 125 suspected trafficking cases. Only 18 cases were referred to judicial or law enforcement authorities for further investigation, which were ongoing at the end of the reporting period. The public prosecutor also investigated nine sex trafficking cases in the reporting period. The government did not report official statistics on prosecutions, though a public prosecutor reported the initiation of at least eight sex trafficking prosecutions under Law 164; however, the details of these cases were unavailable. The government did not report efforts to investigate or prosecute public officials for alleged complicity in trafficking-related offenses. NGOs reported that some SG officers accepted bribes to protect adult night clubs or to issue more artiste visas than usual. The government did not provide or fund specialized training for its officials to recognize, investigate, or prosecute cases of trafficking; however, 1,926 newly recruited ISF officers participated in NGO-run anti-trafficking trainings in 2012.
The government made some protection efforts in this reporting period by continuing to refer some victims to NGO services; it did not, however, make sufficient efforts to ensure that trafficking victims were not subject to arrest, detention, and deportation. The government did not have a policy to protect victims from punishment for crimes committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking or providing relief from deportation to foreign victims. Law enforcement, immigration, and social service officials continued to lack a formal system for proactively identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations with which they come in contact. This continued lack of systematic procedures led to the deportation of most domestic workers who fled their abusive employers. Women holding artiste visas—some of whom were trafficking victims—were subject to immediate deportation following arrest; authorities rarely referred these cases to NGOs for protection services and assistance. Out-of-status migrant workers were typically arrested, detained, and deported without being screened for indicators of trafficking. Detention typically lasted for one to two months, but NGOs reported some cases of detention that lasted longer. For example, an NGO reported the government deported three Nigerian women who filed a complaint against their abusers under the anti-trafficking law, and made no effort to provide them with protective services; the victims were subsequently arrested upon arrival in their home country. The SG maintained a 500-person prison-style detention center in Beirut. While the SG used a registration and identification system in the detention center to notify embassies from source countries of the presence of their nationals in detention, this system failed to provide specific guidance for identifying which detainees were victims of trafficking. The SG continued to permit an NGO to interview migrants to identify trafficking victims among the broader migrant center population. An NGO reported an increased level of professionalism among SG officials and noted that investigators were increasingly referring cases to relevant authorities for further action.
The government allotted no resources to aiding trafficking victims and it did not provide direct financial assistance to foreign trafficking victims. In September 2012, the cabinet approved an implementation decree of the anti-trafficking law, which enabled the Ministry of Justice to subcontract NGOs to provide victim assistance and protection; however, the government did not provide or fund shelters for trafficking victims through the reporting period. There were no services available for male victims. The government continued to rely on an NGO safehouse to provide a range of victim services to female victims of trafficking. Pursuant to a 2005 memorandum of understanding between the SG and the NGO, the SG was required to refer trafficking victims to the safehouse and to provide security for the location. The safehouse assisted 66 victims of trafficking during the last year. The SG reported identifying 118 cases of potential victims of trafficking and the ISF reported seven cases of child trafficking and sexual exploitation, while an NGO reported providing legal aid to 74 victims. The SG and ISF referred two victims of trafficking to NGO services and one for medical assistance. The NGO noted improved cooperation with the SG over the last year in referring trafficking victims. Victims were not encouraged to bring their cases to the attention of public prosecutors. NGOs reported many victims preferred quick administrative settlements followed by repatriation rather than long criminal prosecutions.
The government made few efforts to prevent trafficking over the last year, as deficiencies remained that put foreign migrant workers, particularly domestic workers, at risk of forced labor. SG officers at Beirut International Airport continued to distribute two booklets to migrant domestic workers upon their arrival in Lebanon. Despite a law prohibiting the confiscation of passports belonging to foreign migrants, the SG required that, upon arrival to the country, foreign migrants surrender their passports to their sponsors. The standard unified employment contract for migrant workers, in use since February 2009, is still not available in the 12 most common languages of migrant laborers; domestic workers must sign the contract in Arabic, a language that very few can read. The government continued to operate a hotline to receive labor complaints from foreign workers, which is linked to an NGO-operated hotline; however, the government did not report how many calls it received or how many victims were referred to protection services through the hotline. The Ministry of Labor and the SG have the authority to close or penalize employment agencies that exploit migrant workers, yet the Ministry of Labor did not provide information on how many—if any—agencies were closed or penalized for violations in this reporting period. The SG reported sanctioning 11 agencies in total during this reporting period; three were prohibited from applying for visas for foreign workers and were subject to administrative actions, two agencies were blacklisted, and six agencies were subject to administrative penalties. Likewise, the government did not report statistics documenting the work of its 130 labor inspectors charged with investigating situations of forced adult and child labor. The SG continued a pilot program that distributed brochures to an unknown number of departing Moldovan artiste visa holders containing information on NGO resources available to trafficking victims in Moldova; however, Lebanese authorities did not report if it offered protective services in Lebanon to any Moldovan victims of sex trafficking. The Office of the Prime Minister’s national anti-trafficking stakeholders group, which included experts from Lebanese government ministries, civil society, and international organizations, included anti-trafficking efforts among goals in its national targeted poverty program. The government’s two national human trafficking steering committees did not meet during this reporting period. The government did not take any steps to reduce the demand for forced labor or commercial sex acts during the year.