Tag Archives: Migrants

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.

Nepal bans migration to Lebanon amid abuse fears

30 Nov

By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Monday, November 30, 2009

BEIRUT: Nepal reintroduced last week a work deployment ban for Lebanon, highlighting growing international concern over the treatment of migrant domestic workers following a wave of suicides over the last two months.
According to a report published Saturday by Nepalese newspaper The Himalayan Times, Nepal’s Department of Foreign Employment reintroduced the ban, lifted in May, because of the recent suicides of two female nationals.
Sunit Bholan, 22, allegedly committed suicide October 8, and Mina Rokaya, 24, died in hospital on October 23. A police report seen by Human Rights Watch (HRW) says she died from a heart attack. The women are among at least 10 migrant domestic workers to have died since October.
“The ban … is a necessary emergency step in the face of an alarming rise in the number of suicides by domestic workers in Lebanon,” said Fatima Gomar, editor of Migrant-Rights.org. “There is a growing understanding among Asian governments that they need to step up and bar their citizens from working in countries where their rights are not protected.”
Still, Gomar doubted the ban would halt Nepalese workers travelling to Lebanon illegally.
Nepalese workers, the majority of them women, count for some 17,000 out of approximately 200,000 migrant workers in Lebanon.
While many are treated  with respect by employers, a number encounter abuse. Studies by the American University of Beirut and HRW have shown many women are forcibly confined to their employer’s house, made to work without a day off, subject to sexual or psychological abuse, have their passports confiscated and their salaries withheld. Migrant workers are not protected under Lebanese labor law.

“Passport retention can be a tool to hold workers in exploitative and/or difficult work conditions,” said Azfar Khan, senior migration specialist at the International Labor Organization’s Regional Office for the Arab States. “Despite our best efforts the situation seems to be going from bad to worse.”

The Himalayan Times said the ban was also influenced by the failure of Nepalese recruitment agencies to fulfill promises to establish shelters and to monitor their clients’ treatment by calling them every fortnight. It added nine Nepalese migrants had committed suicide in Lebanon since March this year.

Recruitment agencies often target women in poor rural areas and give misleading information about what to expect abroad, said Nadim Houry, senior researcher at HRW. One Nepalese woman who broke her leg trying to escape her employer, told him “she saw the snow on the mountains and thought if she could cross the mountain, she’d be in Nepal.”
“What is needed is a better management of … the conditions of work and better protection structures,” said Khan. “Institutionally embedding better management regimes is the only way we can ensure a better protection of rights.”
The ban follows on from similar deployment restrictions enforced by Sri Lanka, Philippines, Ethiopia and Madagascar.

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

Domestic Workers Risking Death to Flee Employers

1 Sep

Domestic workers risking death to flee employers
Rights group: Isolation drove dozens of live-in maids to suicide, deadly escape attempts
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Domestic workers risking death to flee employers


BEIRUT: Leading human rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) spoke on Tuesday of “the urgent need” to improve the working and living conditions of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon, saying that “at least” 95 women had died between January 1, 2007 and August 15, 2008.

“Domestic workers are dying in Lebanon at a rate of more than one per week,” said senior HRW researcher Nadim Houry of the epidemic in an official press release. According to HRW data compiled from the records of the Sri Lankan, Ethiopian and Filipino embassies, media reports, and a select number of available police reports, 40 of the 95 deaths were “classified by the embassies of the migrants as suicide.”

Twenty-four deaths were caused by workers “falling from high buildings, often while trying to escape their employers,” and two were murders. However, the figures were not exhaustive “as certain consulates and embassies of migrants did not share their information” with the group, said the press release. HWR also had evidence of eight domestic workers that had survived falls. A labor attache in an unidentified embassy told HRW “Most deaths resulting from a building fall are failed attempts to escape,” added the press release.

Speaking to The Daily Star, Houry said that since the list had been compiled, an additional death had occurred. Nepalese worker Kesradivi Yerepa Mart “hung herself in Dawhet Aramoun in her employer’s house” over the weekend, he said. “What is clear from the figures is that isolation is driving many of these [workers] to suicide,” Khoury added.

The HRW statement quoted a former ambassador as saying, “Don’t call this an embassy. We have become a funeral parlor. People die. Natural deaths, accidents, suicide. When they try to run away, accidents happen.”

Investigations into the deaths of migrant workers were often limited, added the press release. “Police do not always investigate whether the employer mistreated the employee, and when they do, they limit themselves to general questions and accept the employer’s testimony without cross-checking” their information with other concerned parties, such as neighbors or the employee’s family. “In cases where the domestic worker survives a fall, police often interview her without the presence of a translator and generally ignore the motives that led her to escape,” the HRW statement said.

“All those involved – from the Lebanese authorities, to the workers’ embassies, to the employment agencies, to the employers – need to ask themselves what is driving these women to kill themselves or risk their lives trying to escape from high buildings,” said Houry. “It’s unacceptable to have such a high unnatural death rate, and it’s also preventable,” he added.

There are thought to be some 200,000 domestic workers, mostly from Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, and the Philippines, working in Lebanon. A great number of these work as live-in maids and are often forced to work long hours without a weekly break or sufficient food. A 2006 survey conducted in Lebanon by Dr. Ray Jureidini of 600 migrant domestic workers found that 56 percent worked more than 12 hours a day and 34 percent were not allowed regular time off.

According to a 2005 survey by the non-governmental organization Caritas Lebanon, 90 percent of employers retained the passports and other legal documents of their employees, seriously limiting their freedom of movement. Many workers are also forcibly confined to the house and denied regular, if any, payment of their salaries.

On top of all that, Lebanese labor laws do not protect domestic workers, making them vulnerable to exploitation and human rights abuses.

“The Lebanese are often defensive when talking about the treatment of domestic workers,” Houri said in a telephone interview. “We should move beyond this defensiveness and really think about these high [death] figures and come up with a strategy to improve” the experiences of migrant workers in Lebanon.

“While police reports usually classify cases where domestic workers fall from balconies as suicide, this classification is highly suspect,” said the HWR press release, citing testimonials from survivors who said they were fleeing abuse.

Lebanon is a signatory to the International Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, but has not yet signed the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.

In early 2006, an official steering committee was established to ease the problems of domestic workers. Roland Tawk, a lawyer who often takes on pro-bono cases of incarcerated migrants and a member of the committee, said it had three main goals; 1) to create standardized employment contracts in Arabic, English, French and the native language of the worker; 2) to publish a booklet detailing the rights and obligations of employers and employees, to be distributed at airports, ministries and recruitment agencies, and 3) to formulate a new law for migrant workers.

But according to Houry, “to date” the committee “has failed to deliver any concrete reforms … it’s time for the Lebanese government to show real leadership and actually deliver” these promises, he said.