Friday, August 20, 2010

Ethiopia’s Consul General in Lebanon: The ban is still on for our citizens to work in Lebanon

The Anti-Racism Movement met, on August 17, 2010, with Ethiopia’s Consul General in Lebanon, Mr. Asaminew Debelie Bonssa, and his assistant, at the consulate in Badaro, Beirut. The following are some notes from the meeting.

The role of the Consulate and the role of the Lebanese government
  • Almost two years ago, the Ethiopian government put a ban on their citizens to come and work in Lebanon. But the ban has been circumvented through 3rd countries, from which they are coming in big numbers. I used to work in the Ethiopian MFA when the ban was installed, and we were alarmed with the high death rate and the absence of legal protection of the Ethiopian migrants in Lebanon.
  • The consulate is working with the ministry of labor to mitigate the plight of Ethiopian domestic helpers in Lebanon. There are an estimate of 43,000 Ethiopian domestic helper in Lebanon, not counting those who are here without legal residency (overstaying their visa).
  • End of 2009, the Ethiopian government sent a big delegation to Lebanon and met with key stakeholders, including the General Security Office and the ministry of Labor. During these meetings, the delegation proposed to sign a memorandum of understanding concerning domestic helpers. But the political situation, the elections and the change of cabinet hindered the process. The memorandum was not signed.
  • Overstaying in prisons – sometimes for 5 or 6 months before repatriation – is a problem facing the Ethiopian community. The minister of Interior, Mr. Ziad Baroud, told the Ethiopian consul, Consul General Mr. Asaminew that the cause behind overstaying the high number of migrant workers in Lebanon, the high number of cases where they end up in prison, and the small number comparatively who are investigating these cases in the police or the General Security.
  • The consulate is working with the General Security Office (GSO) to repatriate Ethiopian nationals without legal residency in Lebanon. The GSO offered amnesty to all Ethiopians in prisons who were not facing criminal charges, and who could buy a ticket.
  • Last Thursday, 88 Ethiopian girls went back home. And 148 girls went back on the flight prior. They had all been detained for illegal residency. The turnout is high. The jails empty up and fill up fast, when more illegal migrants are sent in, from various nationalities, including Ethiopian.
The “suicides”
  • The latest case of “suicide”: On July 25, 2010, Ethiopian domestic helper, Zewdnesh Theshome Beyene, born in 1982 in Addis Ababa, presumably “jumped” at 8:30 a.m. from the 8th floor of her employer’s house in Msaytbeh. Her name was not published back then. She died on the spot. The consulate received that day phone calls from neighboring Ethiopian domestic helpers who witnessed the incident in Msaytbeh. The consulate dispatched a representative who arrived and saw the body on the spot, but could not do much more. They do not have the right to enter the homes of people, nor was the police interested in pursuing the investigation further, in the cause of the presumed “suicide”. The employer pays for the repatriation.
  • The consulate will soon hire a lawyer to pursue cases of suicides and other incidents involving Ethipioans in Lebanon. We would like to know the circumstances leading to the “suicide” and the reasons behind it. More importantly, we want to if it was a suicide or not.
  • The police is not effective and we have doubts sometimes. The police reports have a pattern. The police asks the employers what happened and almost all Lebanese employers say the following: “She was a good girl. She was part of the family.”
  • Last year, among October’s four cases of Ethiopian deaths, one of the girls left a letter in which she talked about her sister and problems with her, before jumping from the 7th floor. Her uncle called the consul general to say that the case was not a suicide, but the consul general happened to have the letter on the table and asked the uncle to confirm to the saddened family that it was really a suicide.
  • The consul said they have made efforts to explain to their Ethiopian girls in Lebanon key cultural differences, namely how Lebanese express themselves (tone of voice, anger), and how it differs from Ethiopian ways of expression.
Community leadership and outreach
  • The Ethiopian girls, in general, like Lebanon. They find freedom here despite the difficult circumstances. And they have access to a Coptic church, to a Protestant church and to mosques, each in accordance to her religion.
  • Since the consul general arrived one year ago, the consulate organized several meeting with community leaders. A small community support fund was set up. Recently, the fund supported an Ethiopian girl who was hospitalized after a car accident on airport road. But the consulate is looking forwards towards an Ethiopian-Lebanese Friendship Association, partly because Ethiopians as foreigners cannot form their own association legally.

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