Internet costs put Lebanon migrant workers at risk

STORY: Kenyan cleaner Noel Musanga survived Beirut's port blast and waves of lockdowns.

But now her Internet provider, amid Lebanon's economic meltdown, has announced rates will double.

A freelance migrant worker who barely earns enough to survive, Musanga fears her last lifeline to family and work could snap.

Working in Lebanon is becoming untenable for her and many others, she says.

"Lebanon now, if you continue sitting here you are wasting your time, wasting your energy. Nothing positive is coming out. Maybe you are doing part-time jobs, so you are spending it on the Internet, foodstuffs, house rent, generator. Because everything is expensive, and you’ll have nothing to save for yourself or send to your family. So it’s better to go home and find another way of living.”

Lebanon hosts about 250,000 migrant workers, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, according to the United Nations.

Employers have excessive control over their lives under Lebanon's "kafala" sponsorship system, rights groups say, and abuse of migrant workers in Lebanon is well-documented.

Without the Internet, victims may struggle to seek help, activists say.

Lebanon's three-year financial crisis has left them even more vulnerable - many were abandoned by their employers as their monthly wages – between $150 and $400 – became too expensive.

Lebanon's currency has lost 95% of its value while food and public transport costs have risen roughly eleven-fold.

Freelance work - cleaning or nannying to pay the bills - has become harder by the day, and workers can't afford to be out of reach.

Ethiopian activist Tsigereda Birhanu:

“Most of the people use WhatsApp. If they don’t have Internet, they will lose their job. They will lose their connection with employers, so it is really important to have Internet for job and to communicate with their families.”

Until this month, Lebanon's telecoms sector had stuck with the government's old currency peg of 1,500 Lebanese pounds to the dollar.

Rising fuel costs for transmitters, among other factors, have now prompted the adoption of a more flexible government rate.

One digital rights group says that could make bills for phone calls and Internet up to four times more expensive.

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