File - Ethiopians living in Lebanon take part in the annual procession celebrating Timkat, the Ethiopian Epiphany in Badaro, Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015. (The Daily Star/Khalil Hassan)
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It was Betty's 22nd birthday when she landed in Beirut from Ethiopia with the promise of a well-paid job, but her dream of a better life ended when she found herself at the mercy of her employers. Betty – whose name was changed for security reasons – is one of more than 100,000 Ethiopian migrants in Lebanon working under the kafala sponsorship system, which binds them to one employer.Ethiopians are the biggest group of migrant workers in Lebanon where there are also more than 47,000 Bangladeshis and nearly 19,000 Filipinos, according to 2016 government data.The kafala system applies across the Arab world and is highly criticized by human rights group for exploiting workers and denying them the ability to travel or change jobs.There are no official numbers of workers like Betty – so-called "irregular" workers – who do not have the legal paperwork to let them stay and work in the country.Under the kafala system an employer sometimes holds the worker's passport, residency and work permits even though the Labor Ministry states migrants have the right to keep their passport and all legal papers.Sponsors can sign release papers, but rights groups say migrant workers would still have to be under another sponsor in order to allow them to legally work.
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