Lebanon's migrant workers queue for vaccines in Covid-19 marathon

Many foreign labourers without papers have been unable to receive inoculations

Migrant workers inoculated in first 'marathon' Covid-19 vaccination drive

Migrant workers inoculated in first 'marathon' Covid-19 vaccination drive
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Filipina domestic worker Haydee has wanted to get vaccinated against Covid-19 for months, but when she went to a Beirut hospital, the staff turned her away because her work permit had expired.

When she heard that a vaccination marathon dedicated to foreign workers was taking place in Beirut, she rushed to stand in line at the inoculation centre at 7am.

This is about access to vaccines as a basic human right
Mona Imad, Doctors Without Borders

“Even if I have to stand in the sun all day, I am staying until I get vaccinated,” the 41-year-old told The National at about 10.30am.

She is one of hundreds of foreigners to line the street and pack the car park near La Sagesse in Beirut, a school turned into a makeshift vaccination centre.

Doctors Without Borders, the UN and the Ministry of Public Health organised a three-day vaccination marathon in the school grounds, the first to be wholly dedicated to migrant workers.

They are among Lebanon’s most vulnerable communities, yet many have had limited access to coronavirus inoculation, NGO workers told The National.

The idea is to provide foreign workers, many of whom live in difficult conditions, with equal access to vaccinations, said Mona Imad, a co-ordinator for Doctors Without Borders’ Covid-19 response.

“In most hospitals official IDs are required. Here migrant workers can access the vaccine regardless of what type of document they provide,” she said.

Haydee and her friend Aileen take turns to stand in the shade of an umbrella as men in line next to them complain to a local volunteer about the long queues.

The women and men at the vaccination centre hail mostly from Bangladesh, Ethiopia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Sudan. Migrant workers have seen their living conditions deteriorate since Lebanon's economic crisis began nearly two years ago.

“Migrants are one of the most vulnerable communities in Lebanon and they are not systematically included in the national Covid-19 response,” Ms Imad said.

Electricity cuts and shortages of medicines have weighed heavily on Lebanese hospitals and health experts have warned that hospitals cannot absorb another wave of Covid-19 patients.

“If you are vaccinated you are less likely to go to hospital,” Ms Imad said, “and we all know the dire situation in hospitals right now.”

Many Lebanese employers have dismissed foreign staff amid the crisis, leaving some to sleep in front of their embassies in Beirut while they try to get a flight home.

Nearly 700 people got their first vaccine dose as part of the marathon on Tuesday and Ms Imad said they hope to vaccinate even more people on Wednesday.

“This is about access to vaccines as a basic human right,” she said.

Lebanon launched its official inoculation campaign in February, and more than two million people have received at least one Covid-19 shot in the six million-strong country.

Vaccination is open to Lebanese, foreigners and refugees but identification papers or a residency permit have been required to register for the jab.

Farah El Baba of the Anti-Racism Movement said that local NGOs and the UN have advocated for this requirement to be lifted for months.

In the waiting area of the vaccination centre, Nour Al Nahr from Sri Lanka beamed with joy after a nurse administered her first shot.

The 39-year-old mother, clad in a traditional Sri Lankan dress with a red and golden translucent veil draped around her shoulders, sang to calm down the two babies in her arms.

“Today I am well, but tomorrow, who knows?” she said.

“I’m glad I finally got my shot — now I have peace of mind.”

Updated: August 26, 2021, 3:30 AM