Stu­dent cam­paign against mi­grant abuse hon­ored

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - LEBANON - By Emily Lewis

BEIRUT: A group of stu­dents from Haigazian Univer­sity has re­ceived an honorary men­tion from Face­book for their so­cial me­dia cam­paign aimed at coun­ter­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion against Le­banon’s es­ti­mated 250,000 mi­grant work­ers.

The group launched its “Hope for Helpers” cam­paign as part of Face­book’s P2P in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion, which chal­lenges univer­sity stu­dents to cre­ate anti-ex­trem­ism and hate speech so­cial me­dia cam­paigns.

Nael Ch­haytli, who heads the five­mem­ber Hope for Helpers team, told The Daily Star that the cam­paign’s pri­mary tar­get is Le­banon’s youth, cho­sen be­cause they are of­ten “the el­e­ment of change.”

The cam­paign is equally for Le­banon’s mi­grant pop­u­la­tion, a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of which are 18 to 24 years old, Ch­haytli added.

The team’s ini­tial re­search found that al­though many of Le­banon’s youth were raised by or with the help of mi­grant do­mes­tic work­ers, a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of them knew lit­tle of the kafala spon­sor­ship sys­tem, which ties work­ers to their em­ploy­ers and has been crit­i­cized by hu­man rights groups for fa­cil­i­tat­ing ex­ploita­tion and abuse.

Through their cam­paign, they in­vited young peo­ple “to break the kafala sys­tem” by smash­ing plates with the word “kafala” writ­ten on them, Ch­haytli said. The team then posted a video of the de­struc­tive act on Hope for Helpers’ so­cial me­dia plat­forms, ac­com­pa­nied by an im­age of a bro­ken plate with the words “the only way to deal with these kinds of stains.”

Ad­di­tion­ally, many peo­ple that were in­ter­viewed for Hope the Helpers’ re­search, which be­gan in Septem­ber, said they fre­quently heard the word “abed” (slave in Ara­bic) used in their neigh­bor­hood or place of res­i­dence to re­fer to mi­grant work­ers.

The group launched their cam­paign in Oc­to­ber with slo­gans such as “no ex­cuse for abuse” and “how do we dif­fer?” and have since reached over 1,200 fol­low­ers on In­sta­gram and 2,500 on Face­book.

On their so­cial me­dia pages, Hope for Helpers shares videos and pho­to­graphs doc­u­ment­ing the ex­pe­ri­ences of mi­grant do­mes­tic work­ers in Le­banon and pro­vid­ing in­for­ma­tion on top­ics such as the kafala sys­tem.

A num­ber of Le­banese celebri­ties and pub­lic fig­ures, among them TV host Hicham Had­dad and ac­tor and singer Ziad Bourji, have lent their voices to the cam­paign, shar­ing pho­tos of them­selves hold­ing the Hope for Helpers logo.

Aside from on­line cam­paign­ing, the Hope for Helpers team held a num­ber of aware­ness-rais­ing events, in­clud­ing an in­for­ma­tional lec­ture by the Mi­grant Com­mu­nity Cen­ter and an art ex­hi­bi­tion called “Draw for Hope” that sought to rep­re­sent “the op­pres­sion that the work­ers are sub­ject to.”

Hope for Helpers also co­or­di­nated with the La­bor Min­istry in or­der to cre­ate a hot­line, 1741, through which peo­ple can re­port dis­crim­i­na­tion against mi­grant do­mes­tic work­ers.

Though the Face­book com­pe­ti­tion has ended, Ch­haytli said her team will not stop cam­paign­ing. Their next goal, he said, is to re­cruit more team mem­bers and branch out to other schools and uni­ver­si­ties across the coun­try.

Once the team grows in size, Ch­haytli said he hopes to take “more sig­nif­i­cant ac­tion … and lobby min­istries di­rectly.”

In this year’s con­test, the Haigazian stu­dents re­ceived an honorary men­tion from Face­book for the Hope for Helpers so­cial me­dia cam­paign, plac­ing the team among the top five glob­ally.

Ch­haytli added that in the wake of the cam­paign’s suc­cess, they have re­ceived an “over­whelm­ing amount of en­cour­ag­ing and emo­tional mes­sages from mi­grant work­ers.”

This marks the sec­ond year run­ning that stu­dents from Haigazian Univer­sity have gained recog­ni­tion in the con­test: Last year, a team placed third with RISE, a cam­paign against on­line re­li­gious hate speech.

Vol­un­teers from the Hope for Helpers cam­paign hand out fly­ers and bracelets in Hamra dur­ing the Beirut Marathon.

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