Sunday, November 29, 2009
Thursday, November 26, 2009
When I was being interviewed by a journalist from El Mundo (Spain), we somewhat agreed that migrant domestic workers in Lebanon are well treated “in a significant number of homes”. There’s a lot of generalization about the “evil” Lebanese housewives. But 95% of the people I know who have MDWs at home (family, friends) do not mistreat in any way their maids. (There’s one exception though where the women employer suffers the superiority complex like many Lebanese).
So, it’s not all about bad housewives! One aspect of the problem is the complete absence of safety nets for that category of mistreated migrant workers the percentage of which we do not know.
And to illustrate the complication of the problem, I talked with many people about the need for “a hot-line” where beaten maids can call for help. But that hot-line will have to be able to respond in fluent Ethiopian, Sri Lankan, Nepalese, Malagasy, Bengali, Eritrean, Filipino, etc. 24 hours / 7 days. Who’s going to set up and finance that? And we need brochures in all these languages informing of the hot-line.
In one case where a migrant domestic worker dragged to courts several years ago in Lebanon, she couldn’t speak Arabic or English. A French priest who’s involved in migrant rights protection, and had lived in her country, understood her language and was translating to French. And a translator was translating from French to Arabic for the judge and lawyers.
Why does the investigation of the "suicide" of migrant workers ends at "record speed", asks Al-Akhbar
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Thursday, November 12, 2009
عُثر على جثة أنجيت ر. (20 عاماً ـــــ من مدغشقر) معلّقة بواسطة حبل عند باب غرفة نوم مشغّليها في إحدى قرى المتن. جاء في تقارير أمنية أن «المعلومات الأوّلية تشير إلى أنها شنقت نفسها».
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
In the last three weeks alone, Wissam notes, four Ethiopian women have died. Lebanese police say the deaths of Kassaye Atsegenet, 24, Saneet Mariam, 30, Matente Kebede Zeditu, 26, Tezeta Yalmiya, 26 were probably suicides. But as human rights activists here will testify, the truth about what happened to them may never be known because police usually only take into account the employer's testimony. Migrants who survive abuse or suicide attempts are not usually provided with a translator, meaning their version of events often does not get registered with officials.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
By Josie Ensor
Monday, November 09, 2009
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Friday, November 6, 2009
ضرب وإهانة عاملة إثيوبية في مخفر
تعرّضت سيدة إثيوبية للضرب المبرّح والإذلال على يد رجال قوى الأمن الداخلي، يوم الثلاثاء في الثانية والربع ظهراً، في مخفر ميناء الحصن الكائن في منطقة برج المر، وذلك بحسب شهود عيان. ووفقاً للشهود أنفسهم، فإن رجال الأمن ادّعوا أن السيدة الإثيوبية كانت قد تعرّضت لهم، ما برّر بنظرهم الاعتداء عليها. وقد اتصلت “الأخبار” بالمخفر المذكور، من دون أن يجيب أحد. فاتصلت بالضابط المسؤول، الرائد و.أ.ح. فلم يبادر إلى نفي الحادثة، بل أجاب بنبرة مرتفعة وحادة “لا يحق لكم السؤال عن ذلك”، علماً أن المتصل عرّف عن نفسه بأنه صحافي، وتبيّن لاحقاً أن سبب توقيف السيدة الإثيوبية هو عدم حيازتها أوراقاً ثبوتية.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Suicide Trend Among Lebanese Maids Gets WorseWritten by Benjamin Joffe-Walt
Published Monday, November 02, 2009
Four Ethiopian domestic workers in Lebanon are believed to have committed suicide over the past two weeks.
The news comes one year after an extensive report on working conditions for migrant domestic workers in Lebanon found one female maid to be dying in the country every week.
"It seems that things have simply not changed," Nadim Houry, a migrant workers researcher with the US-based Human Rights Watch, told The Media Line. "The rate we found last year was very alarming and we are still alarmed by the rate of deaths we are seeing, which look similar if not worse than last year."
Two of the four cases over the last two weeks have been confirmed suicides.
The first, 26-year-old Matente Kebede Zeditu, was found to have hung herself from an olive tree in Harif, Southern Lebanon. Ethiopian diplomats in Beirut had no record that Zeditu was in Lebanon.
Ethiopian women are regularly trafficked via Djibouti, Egypt and Somalia for domestic servitude, particularly to Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E.Labor rights advocates say an underworld of unregistered Ethiopian workers has been created since the Ethiopian government banned its citizens from traveling to Lebanon last year, a move taken after the deaths of a number of Ethiopian domestic workers in the country.
"Many are still coming and agents in both Ethiopia and Lebanon have found ways to get around the ban, often by sending migrant workers through third countries like Yemen," Houry said. "So we tried to go to the consulate but they just didn't have any information."
The second case, 24-year-old Kassaye Atsegenet, jumped from the seventh floor of a building in downtown Beirut and left a suicide note. The police officially reported the suicide as the result of a spat between Atsegenet and her sister.The third case, 26-year-old Tezeta Yalmiya, died under suspicious circumstances after falling from the third floor of a building in Abra, near the city of Saida. It is unclear whether Yalmiya accidentally fell, was attempting to escape, or was pushed.
"All we know is that supposedly she was trying to clean and she fell," Houry said. "Cases where it's intentional homicide are rare, but it does happen. Usually, though, it's either suicide, an attempt to escape down the outer walls using TV cables and they just fall or they are asked to do dangerous work."
Little is known about the final case, 30-year-old Saneet Mariam, a fourth Ethiopian national who died in the town of Mastita.
"There are some clear cases where you can tie the causes of death or suicide to abuse by the employers," Houry said. "In many other cases the direct causation is not as clear because there are a number of things going on. But when you have a pattern of suicide like this you can't just attribute it to individual depression, it points to a more systemic issue driving these women to commit suicide."
"There are clearly a number of women who kill themselves because of workplace conditions," he continued. "The isolation that these women feel, and that they have no support structure, is a clear factor here. In most cases they have no privacy, don't have a day off, don't have the ability to talk to anyone else and their work conditions are so bad these women kind of lose their appetite to live."
Houry argued that much of the problem lies in the false expectations many migrant domestic workers are given prior to their arrival in Lebanon. Many workers pay hundreds of dollars expecting high-level business jobs.
"The women who are being sent overseas don't know what to expect," he said. "They've been promised things that are not true and they end up feeling trapped. They may decide they miss family and want to go back, but the employer does various things to put pressure on them to continue working and they see no way out but to commit suicide."
There are believed to be around 200,000 domestic workers in Lebanon and a Human Rights Watch investigation last year found that more than one domestic worker was dying every week in the country. Half of the deaths were Ethiopian women, who make up less than a quarter of the domestic workers in Lebanon.
The report found that while most Lebanese employers treated domestic workers well, many were found to withhold workers' passports, withhold salaries, forbid workers from leaving the house. Cases of abuse, both verbal and physical, were also common.
Labor rights advocates say that since then the Lebanese government has done very little to stem the tide of deaths, to improve working conditions among migrant domestic workers, or to create an enforcement body to protect foreign workers and prosecute abusive employers.
"What happens with migrant domestic workers is that their rights are not very well protected by national legislation and employers often treat them very badly," Gloria Moreno-Fontes, a senior labor migration specialist with the International Labour Organization told The Media Line. "Some advances have been made in Lebanon but incidents like these are very worrying."
"It's an issue of enforcement," Moreno-Fontes stressed. "There is a lack of monitoring and a lack of control over the employers or their intermediaries, such as private agents.»
"The government needs to do more and there needs to be better enforcement of existing laws," she said. "There also needs to be a mechanism to monitor what is going on in the households. In some countries, for example, they permit labor inspectors into the household. But in most Arab countries they would never even consider this option, as the home is seen as within the private sphere and therefore untouchable."
The International Labor Organization plans to push international standards on labor recommendations for domestic laborers in their annual conference next year.
Houry agreed that there was a need for better law enforcement.
"First, there has to be a commission to look into this phenomenon and a hotline set up so that these women can call in to raise a flag before they actually get to the point of committing suicide," he warned. "Then, there needs to be enforcement when the flag is raised."
"While the police always come to investigate, the investigations are very superficial," Houry claimed. "They don't try to figure out if there was a situation of abuse and they don't inquire about the working conditions. They just sort of write it down and move on."
Houry said even after death the families of the departed often face further difficulties.
"Sometimes the bodies sit in a fridge in Lebanon for months," Houry claimed. "Also the insurance companies often refuse to pay to repatriate the bodies."
"There is sometimes just an utter disregard for life," he added. "We found one case in which they sent the wrong person, an Ethiopian worker's body, back to Nepal. When her family opened the casket they realized the mistake."
From the moment she arrived in Lebanon, Martha*, an Ethiopian woman in her twenties, was subjected to abuse by her employer and her three children – a 9-year-old and two teenagers. They beat her ceaselessly, verbally abused her, locked her in the house, and bolted the fridge door. “Imagine a 9-year-old child beating you. I cried,” said Martha. Two months into her ‘contract’, she escaped to the Ethiopian consulate where she was followed by her employer, with children in tow, who tried to publically beat her. The consulate protected her and let her leave with an apparently apologetic member of the employment agency that had brought Martha to Lebanon.
Surprisingly, Martha was sent back to the same family and the brutal regime from which she had fled. “I tried to kill myself by drinking some cleaning liquid, but only my mouth burned. I did not try again,” Martha smiled sadly. In fact, Martha lasted a year and escaped when her employer asked her to go out and buy a broom. “As soon as I was outside, I started to run.”
Martha survived, but many other women who come to this country as maids, only find themselves hostages to brutality that ends up taking their lives. In the past two weeks, four Ethiopian women have died in Lebanon as a result of either suspected or confirmed suicide. Three – Matente Kebede Zeditu (26), Saneet Mariam (30), and Tezeta Yalmiya (26) – were reported in the media. Although Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) figure of more than one death out of around 200,000 domestic workers per week created waves when it was released in August 2008, the Lebanese government has taken no substantial action, and maids keep dying needlessly.
“These deaths are the tip of the iceberg,” says Nadim Houry, senior researcher at HRW. “It is only the most dramatic manifestation of a number of violations [of basic human rights] such as ill-treatment, and isolation of these workers.”
For example, it is standard practice for Lebanese employers to ‘retain’ the domestic worker’s passport, while many do not let them go out for years at a time. Verbal abuse is common as is the withholding of salaries.
Although most of these “standard practices” are illegal under the Lebanese constitution and the overwhelming majority of Lebanese, who employ domestic staff treat them fairly, the problem is that there is no law enforcement body to protect the most basic human rights of foreign maids and prosecute abusive employers.
As a result, many choose to end their lives. But even then, the suffering continues with the repatriation of the body. A Nepali woman who died at the end of August is still in the morgue. “There are some cases where a body is left in the fridge for a long time, and neither the insurance nor the employer wants to pay for the trip home,” says Houry. The best way to stop these deaths, he says, is to hold the Lebanese government accountable. “What would be required are concrete measures by the government that would reduce the isolation that these workers feel.”
Official police sources said that the Ethiopian woman who committed suicide by jumping from the seventh floor in Gemmayze, did so because of a soured relationship with her sister. Nevertheless, Broukti*, an Ethiopian domestic worker, who has worked for more than a decade in Lebanon and is also a local community organizer, is skeptical. “I don’t believe it. If it was in Ethiopia, nobody would kill herself because she fought with her sister.”
In fact, according to the deaths recorded by HRW, much more than half of all deaths are those of Ethiopian women who make up less than a quarter of the workforce. Broukti has two explanations. Firstly, the problem is that many of the women from her country come from rural areas and pay hundreds of dollars to smugglers believing they will work in white-collar jobs abroad. When they arrive in Lebanon, they find their situation unbearable. The Ethiopian government’s ban on Ethiopians coming to Lebanon since last year has only exacerbated the problem.
Furthermore, for many of these women, the treatment as second-class human beings without family, friends, culture and humanity is insufferable. “We are Ethiopians with a history. We have never been colonized. We colonized until the border of Saudi Arabia. We’re a very proud nation,” Broukti says.
*Not their real names.