Tag Archives: abuse

Ethiopians protest consular neglect, Alem Dechessa’s death

4 Apr

A photograph of Alem Dechessa’s family has been published on Facebook.  I reported last month that Ethiopian national Alem had committed suicide in a Lebanese hospital following the broadcasting of amateur footage showing a Lebanese man, Ali Mahfouz, abusing the 33-year-old migrant worker.

The photo, taken by Michael Fassil, originally appeared on Facebook after Zewdi Reda, founder of the Have Hope Foundation, posted it to her account.

Last Sunday (usually the only day many Ethiopians and other migrant workers have off), a few dozen members of the Ethiopian community in Lebanon gathered outside their consulate in Beirut to protest its apathy towards their treatment in Lebanon.

According to an article in The Daily Star newspaper:

“The assembled expressed their frustration with consular officials’ perceived callousness, saying that when Ethiopians contact their consulate in Lebanon via telephone they are often ignored or hung up on.

“We are living here,” said a woman named Berti, adding that “the [consulate] should help us, but they only want money.”

One woman told the newspaper she didn’t believe Dechessa had killed herself: “Nobody helped her,” said another woman named Sarah, who wore a blue keffiyeh: “How did she die? She didn’t kill herself. She’s not crazy.”

Ali Mahfouz has been charged with contributing to and causing the suicide of Dechessa, but he is reportedly not currently in custody.

Ethiopian woman commits suicide in Lebanon

16 Mar

I recently posted footage showing an Ethiopian migrant woman in Lebanon being dragged and assaulted by a Lebanese man (two at one stage). It is with absolute disgust that I can now tell you that the woman in the video, 33-year-old Alem Dechasa, committed suicide earlier this Wednesday.

Ethiopia’s consul general broke the news to Reuters: ‘”I went to the hospital today and they said that she hanged herself at 6 o’clock this morning,” Asaminew Debelie Bonssa told Reuters. Dechasa had been taken to hospital in order to recover from her forcible abduction.’

According to the Daily Star newspaper, the Ethiopian consulate in Lebanon has now filed a lawsuit against Ali Mahfouz, the man who was videoed beating Dechasa. I can only hope that the suit will actually go somewhere, rather than just sitting in a file on a judge’s desk for years. The Lebanese government has singlehandedly failed in its duty to protect Dechasa and other migrant workers facing abuse. Home countries, in this case Ethiopia, have also failed to properly inform women seeking domestic work abroad of the difficulties they may face.

Migrant Women Dying on the Job

21 Nov

By Dalila Mahdawi

BEIRUT, Nov 21 (IPS) – October and November have been bloody months for Lebanon’s migrant domestic workers – over the last five weeks nine women have died. Most deaths have been reported as suicide.

The body of 20-year old Anget R. of Madagascar was found hanging from a rope at her employer’s bedroom door Nov. 11. A newspaper in Madagascar reported the deaths of two other Malagasy women in October. One, identified only as Mampionona, was said to have fallen from the balcony of her employer’s house. The other, identified as Vololona, died after reportedly jumping from the balcony.

Sunit Bholan of Nepal, who was 22, allegedly committed suicide Oct. 8. Ethiopian Kassaye Etsegenet, 23, died after reportedly jumping from the seventh floor of her employer’s house Oct. 15. She left behind a suicide note citing personal reasons.

On Oct. 21, 26-year-old Zeditu Kebede Matente of Ethiopia was found dead, hanging from an olive tree. Two days later 30-year old Saneet Mariam also of Ethiopia died after allegedly falling from the balcony of her employer’s house.

The list goes on: Nepalese national Mina Rokaya, 24, and then Tezeta Yalmoya of Ethiopia, 26 – who also died, it was said, when she fell from the balcony.

“It’s a national tragedy,” Nadim Houry, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, tells IPS.

There are an estimated 200,000 women working in Lebanon as live-in housekeepers, cooks and nannies. Most are from Sri Lanka, Ethiopia and the Philippines, though increasing numbers are arriving from Nepal, Madagascar and Bangladesh.

The workers leave their families behind to travel to Lebanon and look after strangers. Many are treated well by their employers; others are less fortunate.

Once in Lebanon, the women may be confined to their employer’s house, and have their passports confiscated and their salaries withheld, increasing their sense of isolation. Many women say they are not allowed out of the house, or get a day off. Complaints of sexual or psychological abuse are not uncommon.

Lebanon’s controversial sponsorship system means that workers are bound to their employers, and face incarceration if they leave. “It’s distressing to note that suicide for some is the only recourse to release from an abusive situation,” says Azfar Khan, senior migration specialist at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) regional office for the Arab states.

Police investigations are often inadequate, usually taking into consideration only the employer’s testimony and failing to cross-check it with neighbours or the worker’s friends or family, says Houry. If the woman is lucky enough to survive a suicide attempt, the police almost never provide her with a translator, or ask whether she had been abused. Cases where abusive employers are imprisoned “are the exception, not the rule,” says Houry.

The recent spate of deaths is not the first. A HRW study last year found that at least 95 women had died between Jan. 1, 2007 and Aug. 15, 2008 – a rate of more than one a week.

Aimee, a freelance domestic worker from Madagascar, has been in Lebanon for almost 12 years. As a community leader now, she helps workers in distress by offering a sympathetic ear and advice.

Many of the women she counsels do not receive a regular salary, or have been abused by their employers or recruitment agency officials. Agencies “check the women’s bags for phone numbers or addresses of their consulate,” Aimee tells IPS. Any numbers found are destroyed to prevent the woman seeking help. “How can they ask someone to work so far away from home and treat them like that?”

Lebanon’s growing notoriety as a hotbed for abuse of rights has compelled the governments of Ethiopia and the Philippines to issue bans on their nationals working in Lebanon. But this hasn’t stemmed the tide of migrants entering through third countries. Bans in any case only “transfer the problem from one nationality to another,” says Houry, because recruitment agencies simply look to new countries for women workers.

One reason for suicides is the false expectations recruitment agencies raise among migrant workers. Many women are led to believe they will work as nurses or as other professionals. “A lot of these women are recruited in rural areas – it’s like taking someone and plucking them into a totally different environment,” says Houry.

One Nepalese woman he spoke to after she broke her leg trying to escape her employer’s house said “she saw the snow on the mountains and thought if she could cross the mountain, she’d be in Nepal.”

Lebanese labour laws do not cover domestic workers. Without any legal protection, foreign workers are vulnerable to exploitation.

“The ILO has been pushing for domestic workers to be covered under labour law – not just in Lebanon but in other countries of the region – so that at least institutionally they enjoy protection and have the option to have their grievances addressed in court,” says Khan. “They are workers, so why should the labour law not apply to them?”

Lebanon has signed the International Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, but has yet to move towards signing the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families – a measure that would obligate it to take protection measures for the migrant community.

But more practical measures the Lebanese could take are to create a national hotline for distressed workers and a labour inspection force to monitor the treatment of migrants, says Houry. “More broadly, society has to mobilise. Not everyone is guilty of ill-treatment, but everyone has to feel responsible. People need to start speaking out and express that this is unacceptable.”

NGO launches campaign against abuse of women

26 Nov

NGO launches campaign against abuse of women
By Dalila Mahdawi

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

 

BEIRUT: Abeer’s story will resonate with thousands of women in Lebanon and millions around the world. Literally trapped in an abusive marriage for 30 years, she was only able to divorce her husband in 2002 after a law giving women the right to file for divorce came into force in Jordan, where she lived.

Her daughter Nisreen, who lives in Beirut, told The Daily Star that although her mother worked as a school teacher, her husband forbade her from accessing her money. “When we moved, my father took all her savings and bought a house in a very remote area. He sold my mother’s car and every morning would lock her in the house and give the key to the shopkeeper who lived nearby,” Nisreen said.

“I think it goes without saying that my father always used to beat her, too” Nisreen added.

Abeer made repeated attempts to leave her husband, but with no money and three children, she had few options. Nisreen said that every time Abeer tried to leave, her father would threaten to take the children away. All requests Abeer made for a divorce were ignored.

Luckily for Abeer, she had a son from a previous marriage who was able to pay for the education of his half-siblings, something Abeer’s husband had refused to do. “When I finished university, my brother bought our mother a house,” said Nisreen. “Also around that time, the new divorce law came into force, so my mother left my father, went to live in her new home and within three months was granted a divorce.” If it hadn’t been for the introduction of legislation allowing women in Jordan to divorce their husbands with greater ease, Abeer would still be in a violent marriage.

After the divorce, said Nisreen, her father married a 16-year-old Bedouin girl. “When I went to visit my dad, I saw he was doing to her exactly what he used to do to my mom,” she said. “I felt that there was nothing I could do for her except be her friend and give her support.”

Marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on Tuesday, both men and women across the world campaigned to bring an end to the horrific experiences suffered by the likes of Abeer. Violence against women is “the most pervasive yet least recognized human rights abuse in the world,” the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has said.

According to the World Health Organization, one-third of all women in the world have been forced into sex, beaten, or otherwise abused, usually by someone known to them, during their life. Most women are more likely to die or be disabled due to domestic violence than from disease, war or car accidents.

In Lebanon, KAFA: Enough Violence and Exploitation, a non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to eradicating gender-based violence, child abuse and human trafficking, launched Tuesday the annual “16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence” campaign, along with a number of other NGOs.

During the campaign, which will run until International Human Rights Day on December 10, awareness stalls will be set up at Lebanese universities, shopping malls and supermarkets, and signatures will be collected for a petition calling on the Lebanese government to adopt a family-violence protection bill.

The KAFA-drafted law is needed, said program coordinator Ghida Anani, because “the Lebanese penal code’s view of violence does not take into consideration the intimacy and specificity of family relations.” Lebanese law does not consider marital rape a crime either. “The law we are asking for is preventative,” said Anani. “It would see the establishment of special police stations to deal with family violence, the establishment of a family court, and force the abuser to pay all expenses related to violence, such as medical care,” she added.

The draft law reflected a “huge need” by Lebanese women, said Anani, for legal protection, “considering all the obstacles they face” to escape domestic violence. “Many women suffer from economic dependence, the threat of having their children taken from them and difficulties in obtaining divorce,” she said, adding that most divorce cases in Lebanon were filed “because of abuse.”

Clause 61 of the Ministerial Statement issued in August noted that the government would “work toward implementing Lebanon’s commitment to international conventions and in particular to CEDAW [the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women]. It added that the government would “also seek to address all forms of violence against females.”

The clause was “the first time ever that mention has been made of violence against women with an explicit promise for legal reform,” said KAFA. But Lebanon has yet to ratify CEDAW.

In a statement to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid said Tuesday: “We call on people and leaders around the world to join forces to make violence against women history. Let us reaffirm our faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, and in the equal rights of men and women.”

But with the number of women seeking help from KAFA increasing, the fight to protect women from violence still has a long way to go.

 KAFA’s helpline can be reached on 03 018 019

 ‘A year of missed opportunities’ for migrant workers – human rights watch

BEIRUT: Many migrant and domestic workers continue to face abuse and exploitation in the Middle East and Asia because of a lack of laws protecting their rights, US-based rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Monday. In a press release issued to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on Tuesday, HRW said domestic workers have little access to the justice system in the countries where they work, and even when they do complain, “rarely receive redress.”

“Governments need to punish abusive employers through the justice system, and prevent violence by reforming labor and immigration policies that leave these workers at their employers’ mercy,” said the deputy director of HRW’s Women’s Rights division, Nisha Varia.

Hundreds of thousands of African and Asian women work in Lebanon and the Gulf as domestic workers, but most are excluded from the labor laws of those countries. “Employers control a worker’s immigration status and ability to change jobs, and sometimes whether the worker can return home,” said the press release. “Many employers exploit this power to confine domestic workers to the house, withhold pay, and commit other abuses.”

“2008 marked a year of missed opportunities,” said Varia. “While most governments have started to think about some level of reform, many of these discussions have stalled. Providing comprehensive support services to victims of violence, prosecuting abusers, and providing civil remedies are reforms that just can’t wait.”

HRW called for a number of measures to be taken to protect the rights of migrant domestic workers working in the Middle East and Asia, including the abolishment or reform of “immigration-sponsorship policies so that domestic workers’ visas are no longer tied to their employers,” the prosecution of perpetrators of psychological, physical and sexual violence, the creation of support services and legal aid for workers who face abuse, and training for law enforcement officials “on how to respond to domestic workers’ complaints appropriately.”

A HRW report issued in August found that migrants workers in Lebanon were dying at a rate of more than one per week, either as a result of suicide or while trying to escape abusive employers.

Film casts spotlight on abusive employers of domestic workers

25 Nov

Film casts spotlight on abusive employers of domestic workers
Documentary calls for protecting rights of household helpers

By Dalila Mahdawi
Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Film casts spotlight on abusive employers of domestic workers
 

 

 

BEIRUT: “Finally, the Filipina domestic worker is arriving,” begins Carol Mansour’s latest documentary. “This is the first time I’m getting someone to help at home … I have no doubt that she will help me a lot.””Maid in Lebanon II,” which screened on Monday evening at Club 43 in Gemmayzeh, is Mansour’s second film addressing the status of female migrant workers in Lebanon.

Whereas the first film was told from the point of view of a domestic worker, “Maid in Lebanon II” is narrated by Ghada Najjar, who has employed a woman called Jelly Cadez to help her manage the household. Funded by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and filmed in Sri Lanka and Lebanon, Mansour’s documentary is perhaps the most comprehensive study to date of the working conditions of migrant domestic workers, their rights and obligations under Lebanese law, and those of their employers.

Often leaving their families and abject poverty behind them, hundreds of thousands of women from Africa and Asia travel every year to Lebanon and countries in the Gulf to work as domestic workers. While some women are well treated by their employers, others are not so lucky. Their plight often goes unnoticed and in official circles, ignored. The rights of migrant domestic workers are not protected under Lebanese labor laws, but with 200,000 of them thought to be living here – about 5 percent of the county’s population, people are slowly becoming more aware of the fact that the rights of household helpers need to be protected.

Speaking to The Daily Star, Mansour says, “the problem is so obvious. Anybody, whether they are a filmmaker or a bank worker, can see it.” According to Mansour, who has collected awards for her hard-hitting films on the summer 2006 war in Lebanon and Cairo street children, “there are definitely a lot of things [pertaining to the rights of domestic workers] that need to be talked about.”

In a 2006 study conducted by Ray Jureidini of the American University of Beirut, the biggest complaint made by domestic workers was that their employers withheld their pay. One woman interviewed in the film says she worked for eight years without receiving “even 1,000 lira” from her employer, who shouted at her when she asked to be paid.

“There is no reason for employers to say, “We’ll hold onto your salary,” says Caritas representative Najla Chahda in Mansour’s film. “Would I accept to work all month and not be paid at the end?”

Caritas is the main nongovernmental organization working with domestic workers in Lebanon and says it receives 40 new cases of women seeking help every month.

Jureidini’s study also found that 60,000 to 70,000 domestic workers had been subject to “physical punishment, deprivation of food and forced confinement” and that 10,000 to 20,000 had been physically and sexually abused.

According to an August report released by Human Rights Watch, “at least” 95 women working as domestic workers in Lebanon had died between January 1, 2007, and August 15, 2008, a figure that translates to more than one woman per week. Of the 95 deaths, 40 were “classified by the embassies of the migrants as suicide,” said HRW, stressing that their list was not exhaustive. “Most deaths resulting from a building fall are failed attempts to escape” the ill treatment that Jureidini found so often haunts these women, a labor attache told HRW.

While domestic workers are required to undergo training courses in their home countries before taking up their posts in the Middle East, no similar orientation course is yet demanded of employers. “Some receiving countries” are calling for employers to be trained in “cross-cultural communication … and the rights and duties of both parties,” Ghada narrates. “This practice is not yet established in Lebanon.”

The attitudes toward domestic workers displayed by some employers in “Maid in Lebanon II” offer a convincing argument for the pressing need to introduce such courses.

“They demand so much,” complains one woman of domestic workers. “You can’t even beat them anymore because they’ve become so rude.”

According to a Sri Lankan worker talking to Mansour from a safehouse, her “madame would not allow me to drink milk or Nescafe … She would give me very little food … I was not allowed to sit.”

The attitudes that some employers have toward their house help needs to change, says Chahda. “They claim that since they paid money to get this girl, then they own her.”

Mansour says she was “shocked” by the attitudes of some of the employers she filmed. “They wouldn’t treat their domestic workers the way they do if they put themselves in her shoes,” she says. “If I can change 10 percent of people’s thinking on this issue, I’d feel like I was contributing to a better world,” adds Mansour.

Reacting to Lebanon’s increasingly notorious reputation as a hotbed for domestic worker abuse, Ethiopia this year banned its citizens from seeking employment here. Likewise, Sri Lanka has said it will impose travel restrictions on those seeking employment in Lebanon.

According to the Sri Lankan government, 50 women return from the Middle East in distress each day.

Lebanon is a signatory to the International Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, but has yet to sign the 2003 Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.

However, some improvement on the issue is being made.

In early 2006, an official steering committee was established by the Labor Ministry to ease the problems of domestic workers. According to the director of the ILO’s regional office, Nada al-Nashif, whose organization is part of the committee, one of its goals is to introduce standardized employment contracts in Arabic, English, French and the native language of the worker.

These contracts “should protect the rights and responsibilities of both” the employer and employee, Nashif says in the film, and be “available to domestic workers upon their arrival” in the country. The committee has also launched a public awareness campaign on the issue that “targets Lebanese public opinion.”

The ILO is also pressuring the Lebanese government to formulate a new law for migrant workers. This follows a historic achievement earlier this year when “a first step was taken internationally toward recognizing domestic workers’ rights” after the ILO agreed to work on formulating an international convention that would protect their rights, narrates Ghada. 

Most of Lebanon’s migrant women workers are Sri Lankan, numbering some 86,000, according to statistics from the Sri Lankan Bureau of Foreign Employment. The second two largest communities are Ethiopians and Filipinas.

 

For more information about the film, visit www.fwdprod.com