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, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Togo, Cameroon, and Nigeria who travel to Lebanon with the assistance of recruitment agencies to work in domestic service, are often subjected to forced labor, experiencing 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; to retain legal status, a change in their sponsorship must be pre-arranged and approved by the General Directorate for General Security (DGS), 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, keep foreign domestic workers confined in residences for years. Some victims are recruited to work in Lebanon by employment agencies using false lucrative job offers. 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.
Women from Eastern Europe, including Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova, as well as the Dominican Republic, Morocco, and Tunisia enter Lebanon through the government’s artiste visa program to work as dancers in Lebanon’s adult entertainment industry; the visas are valid for three months and may be renewed once for an additional three months. In 2013, 11,465 women entered Lebanon under this visa program—almost double the amount of artiste visas issued in 2012—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 women from the DRC and Burundi are forced into prostitution in Lebanon; it is unclear if they work in Lebanon under the artiste visa program. 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. Syrian refugees, in particular women and children, who fled the conflict to Lebanon are at an increased risk of sex trafficking and forced labor due to their vulnerable economic and financial situation. NGOs and international organizations continue to report an increase in Syrian children engaged in street begging, some of which are forced; Syrian girls are forced into marriages, which can place them at risk of forced labor and sex trafficking. An international organization reported Syrian gangs force Syrian refugees, including men, women, and children, to work in the agricultural sector in Beqaa Valley harvesting potatoes, olives, and bananas while living in informal tented settlements. Victims are forced to work under harsh conditions with little to no pay; some are forced to work to pay off debts incurred to facilitate their entry into Lebanon or to pay for their lodging. 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, but is making significant efforts to do so. The government conducted an increased number of investigations of human trafficking and prosecuted and convicted some trafficking offenders. Despite these measures, the government has not shown evidence of increasing efforts to address human trafficking compared to the previous year; therefore, Lebanon is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for a third consecutive year. Lebanon was granted a waiver from an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3 because its government has a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and it has committed to devoting sufficient resources to implement that plan.
The government did not investigate officials complicit in human trafficking. Although the government continued to identify and refer some victims to NGO-run protection services, the government did not provide or fund any protection services for victims and did not have victim identification and protection procedures in place. Officials failed to proactively identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups, including domestic workers who ran away from abusive employers, illegal migrants, and women holding artiste visas. As a result, authorities continued to arrest, detain, and deport both potential and identified trafficking victims for crimes committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking. Finally, Lebanon’s sponsorship system, coupled with the widespread withholding of passports, continued to be a structural impediment that contributed to the domestic servitude of domestic workers.
Recommendations for Lebanon:
Continue to implement the anti-trafficking law by investigating, prosecuting, and convicting trafficking offenders, including officials complicit in human trafficking; enforce the law prohibiting the confiscation of passports belonging to foreign migrants in Lebanon; develop and institute formal procedures to identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable populations, such as women holding artiste visas, domestic workers who have escaped abusive employers, and Syrian refugees; 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 or prostitution violations; provide protection services to all victims of trafficking, such as shelter, access to legal aid and interpretation, and counseling; continue to work in partnership with NGOs to identify and protect victims, and implement the decree which enables the Ministry of Justice to subcontract NGOs to provide victim assistance and protection; 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; train police, judges, prosecutors, and other government officials about the anti-trafficking law and how to enforce it; continue to conduct anti-trafficking public awareness campaigns; 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 some anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts, but over a hundred investigations resulted in only two convictions. Lebanon’s 2011 anti-trafficking law, Number 164, prohibits all forms of trafficking in persons. 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. NGOs report that anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts were hampered by cultural biases, the difficulty of proving reported abuses, the slow pace of the judicial system, lack of protective services, and the fact that victims were not informed of their legal rights. Several government officials reported that security forces were often reluctant to arrest parents for subjecting their children to trafficking due to a lack of social services available should the child be removed from the family.
The Internal Security Forces (ISF) investigated seven cases of trafficking involving 27 victims of sexual exploitation and child trafficking, while the DGS investigated 114 suspected cases of trafficking involving non-payment of wages, physical abuse, and rape or sexual abuse. The Ministry of Justice reported prosecuting 14 trafficking offenders under the anti-trafficking law; one case involved forced prostitution and the others involved forced child begging. The government also convicted two offenders, but did not report the sentences. These law enforcement efforts were an increase from the previous reporting period’s 125 investigations, eight sex trafficking prosecutions under Law 164, and zero convictions. In addition, the media reported in March 2014 that police arrested three people on charges of human trafficking and prostitution for recruiting two Syrian women to Lebanon under false promises to work as domestic workers; the victims were subsequently forced into prostitution once in Lebanon. While one of the victims was identified as a trafficking victim, the other was detained on prostitution charges. According to the media in February 2014, the ISF arrested members of a child begging ring, which forced four Syrian children to sell goods in the street; it was unclear if the alleged offenders were prosecuted. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking. Despite this, NGOs reported that some DGS officers accepted bribes to protect adult nightclubs or to issue artiste visas. The government did not provide or fund anti-trafficking trainings for officials, but it allowed officials from various ministries to participate in trainings conducted by NGOs.
The government did not provide protection, including shelter, to trafficking victims and authorities continued to arrest, detain, and deport victims for crimes committed as a direct result of being trafficked. Law enforcement, immigration, and social service officials lacked a formal system to proactively identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations. The DGS reported that it identified 114 cases of potential victims of trafficking; the ISF reported seven cases of sexual exploitation and child trafficking involving 27 victims. In 2012, the DGS reported identifying 118 cases of potential victims of trafficking, and the ISF reported seven cases of child trafficking and sexual exploitation. 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. For example, domestic workers who fled abusive employers and 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. In addition, women holding artiste visas—some of whom were trafficking victims—were subject to immediate deportation following arrest; authorities rarely, if ever, referred these cases to NGOs for protection services and assistance. Investigative judges sometimes ordered that sex trafficking victims be incarcerated for prostitution violations, despite ISF officers having identified them as trafficking victims. For example, according to the media in March 2014, a Syrian victim of sex trafficking was arrested on prostitution charges alongside her traffickers. The DGS maintained a 500-person prison-style detention center in Beirut for illegal foreign migrants, a number of whom were unidentified trafficking victims. The DGS continued to permit an NGO to interview migrants to identify trafficking victims among the broader migrant center population; the NGO continued to report an increased level of professionalism among DGS officials and noted that investigators referred cases to relevant authorities for further action at an increased rate. While the DGS 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 government did not directly provide protection services to victims of trafficking through government funding or through NGO services, nor did it provide or fund shelters for trafficking victims, including men. The government also did not provide direct financial assistance to foreign trafficking victims. The government failed to utilize the implementation decree of the anti-trafficking law, which enabled the Ministry of Justice to subcontract NGOs to provide victim assistance and protection. The government, however, continued to rely on an NGO safe house to provide a range of victim services to female victims of trafficking. Pursuant to a 2005 memorandum of understanding between the DGS and the NGO, the DGS was required to refer trafficking victims to the safe house and to provide security for the location. The safe house assisted 111 victims of trafficking, an increase from the 66 victims assisted in the previous reporting period. The NGO reported that nine victims of trafficking were referred to the safe house by the DGS and ISF in 2013, while the majority of victim referrals came from foreign embassies. Additionally, according to the media in February 2014, four female Syrian children who were forced to beg were referred to an orphanage—due to a lack of social services available for trafficking victims—at the request of officials involved in the prosecution of the children’s traffickers. Government officials did not encourage trafficking victims to bring their cases to the attention of public prosecutors. In the absence of such encouragement, NGOs reported many victims preferred quick administrative settlements followed by repatriation rather than long criminal prosecutions. The government did not provide temporary or permanent residency status or other relief from deportation for foreign trafficking victims who face retribution or hardship in the countries to which they would be deported. The government did not enact the labor law amendment extending legal protections to foreign workers nor the draft law providing increased labor protections to domestic workers, including foreign domestic workers.
The government made minimal efforts to prevent trafficking, as deficiencies remained that put foreign migrant workers, particularly domestic workers, and women holding artiste visas, at risk of trafficking. The government conducted public human trafficking awareness campaigns in shopping centers and television advertisements. DGS officers at Beirut International Airport continued to distribute two booklets to migrant domestic workers upon their arrival in Lebanon. In 2013, DGS partnered with an international organization to monitor the behavior of airport officials who encountered arriving migrant workers. As a result of these monitoring sessions, DGS directed that all airport officers return passports directly to migrant domestic workers upon arrival at airports; NGOs reported that officers complied with the directive. The government continued to operate a hotline to receive labor complaints from foreign workers, but it was severely understaffed and only operational during daytime working hours. The DGS also established a hotline in 2013 to receive complaints, including an unknown number of potential human trafficking claims; the government did not report how many calls these hotlines received or how many victims were referred to protection services through these hotlines. The Ministry of Labor (MOL) and the DGS have the authority to close or penalize employment agencies that exploit migrant workers; the MOL closed 31 agencies for committing employment violations, while the DGS blacklisted 48 recruitment agencies during the reporting period. The DGS continued a 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 having offered protective services in Lebanon to any Moldovan victims of sex trafficking. The 2009 standard unified employment contract for migrant workers was not amended to recognize a worker’s right to leave his or her employer’s house during off-hours, nor was it 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’s inter-ministerial taskforce, formed in 2012, met every two months. The National Steering Committee did not convene while the government was in caretaker status throughout the majority of the reporting period. Lebanese peacekeeping troops continued to receive mandatory training on sexual exploitation and abuse, but not specifically on human trafficking. The government took steps to reduce the demand for forced labor, but it did not take any steps to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or address child sex tourism by Lebanese nationals abroad.