“ምን ዓይነት ሊባኖስ ነው!”
Lebanon: What a Hellish Place for Ethiopians
The heart-rending plight of Ethiopian domestic workers in Lebanon is one the most under-reported human tragedies of our time. The moving saga of the Ethiopian Airlines aircraft that fell into the Mediterranean Sea on January 25, 2010, while trying to takeoff from Beirut briefly brought the suffering of those “housemaids” to the fore. The tragic fate of those young Ethiopian women in Lebanon has been getting meager media coverage around the world. There have been too many suicides committed by the Ethiopians in Lebanon so much so that—it is interesting to note—a blog named http://ethiopiansuicides.blogspot.com/ was set up. Dereje Desta has neatly captured here all the factors, victims, media outlets and stake holders involved in the whole process in a February 2010 edition of Zethiopia newspaper: an English one, Blogging Suicides and “ምን ዓይነት ሊባኖስ ነው!” an Amharic one Lebanon: What a hellish Place for Ethiopians as translated by Henock Yemane.
This Blog (http://ethiopiansuicides.blogspot.com/) has been featured in CNN, CNN Arabic, the L.A. Times, the Guardian, El mundo (Spanish), Angry Arab News Service, The Daily Star (Lebanon), Now Lebanon, the Huffington Post and Global Voice.
The blog is dedicated to monitoring media reports on the deaths of foreign migrant domestic workers in Lebanon, especially Ethiopians.
The spate of suicides has become so bad in recent times; it prompted Lebanese blogger Wissam to launch the grimly named Ethiopian Suicides blog, according to the Guardian.
“It is ridiculous…this is modern day slavery,” said Wissam, a Lebanese activist who started a blog after he noticed four Ethiopian women committed suicide within 10 days in October.
As reported by, Now Lebanon, 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; like the four Ethiopian women that died in Lebanon, as a result of either suspected or confirmed suicide, Now Lebanon.
Lebanese police say the deaths of Kassaye Etsegenet, 24, Senait H. Mariam, 30, Matsente Kebede Zewditu, 26, Tezeta Yalmiya, 26 were probably suicides. But human rights activists disagree, 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 translator, meaning their version of events often does not get registered with officials. Sadly, violations against such workers occur throughout the region and in some cases the women end up in slave-like conditions.
“What about the things we don’t know? These suicides are just the tip of the iceberg of the mistreatment of these women, I have a dream, “Wissam says. “ These migrant domestic workers will be treated humanely in Lebanon and will stop trying to commit or commi [ting] suicide.”
Because domestic work is performed in the private sphere, it is not considered formal labor and is not covered by Lebanon’s labor laws.
In August 2008, Human Rights Watch reported that more than one domestic worker was dying each week, either from suicide or failed escapes from abusive employers. Even recently “Al-Akhbat newspaper reported on Fe 16, the “fall” of Ethiopian national Emebet Seboka from the 4th floor of her employer’s house, Hanan S, in Shoueifat, South of Beirut. Emebet, 23, died before arriving at the hospital.
Such fatalities often are ignored or glossed over by the Arabic press, but a number websites and blogs have popped up with the aim of tracking the deaths and abuses of migrant workers in Lebanon and the Middle East, including Migrant-Rights.org and EthiopianSuicides.blogspot.com, LA times reported.
They are rarely discussed in the media and receive little protection from the governments of host countries, many of whom have no clear policies for safeguarding their welfare, the migrant-rights.org said. The Ethiopian government has acknowledged that thousands of young Ethiopian women working in the Middle East are being abused by their employers. The agencies take up to 7,000 birr-$875 – from each girl without providing receipts or contracts. According to the State Department’s Ethiopia human rights report, in July 2004, young Ethiopian women were trafficked to Djibouti and the Middle East, particularly Lebanon, ….The chief of the investigation and detention center in Lebanon reported in October  that 30 thousand Ethiopian women worked in Beirut, the vast majority of whom were trafficked….Approximately 50 percent of these women were not able to return legally to their home country....”
This Human Rights Watch investigation also found that 17 private beaches, out of nation-wide total of 27, do not allow Asian or African domestic workers to swim, which they argued reflects latent cultural racism in Lebanon.
Anyone who reads what is written above could be tempted to assume that inhumanity is in the genes of all Lebanese, but the following online comments by Lebanese will prove them wrong. Lebanese bloggers and ordinary citizens have been actively engaged in exposing the brutalities and raising public awareness. The following are a selection of their online comments:
There is something strange about Lebanon. On the one had they try to think of themselves as Europeans, hence the liberal lifestyle and appearance minus the liberal approach to humanity. On the other, their own inferiority complex and ignorance get the better of them. The average stilly madam likes to see herself as some sort of Hollywood diva therefore people who work for her are considered subhuman. Whatever your religion, Lebanese, why do you allow such cruelty to take place? These girls are mothers, daughters, sisters, and, above of all, humans. What gives you the right to mistreat them like slaves because they have the misfortune of coming to your cruel continent out to desperations? People in the Middle East need to do some serious soul searching. Before you accuse me of over-generalization, let me tell you I know you all so well. I know what I am talking about. Remember, we are all children of God. Some fortunate, some not, but he must be very disappointed indeed.
Posted by lila, November 17, 2009
Well, a maid comes to Lebanon from her county due to economic pressure looking for better opportunities. Upon arrival madam treats her as a tool working from as early as 0500hrs to 0000hrs depending on the nature of the day while the father and his two sons have found a woman to practice their incestuous sexual desires. The girl goes to report the matter to the nearest police, she is put behind bars accused of stealing or any other sort of crime implacable by the members of the house and the next day she is at GENSEC awaiting repatriation. This is just the tip of the iceberg and is one of the many incidents that take place on a daily basis. The reputation of mistreating, degrading and suppressing domestic workers does not only implicate Lebanon or Saudi-Arabia, but is considered a very big concern in the entire Middle East. While in Lebanon, I’ve witnessed the worst forms of contemporary human slavery, from forced labor to working for less or without payment, to sexual harassment and abuse.
Posted by JJ, November 4, 2009
“Name and shame” Name the families that have had maids driven to such desperate measures. The Lebanese exploit their maids. – I have seen it-even in the best households many maids don’t even get one day off a week, let alone an 8 hour day. Some are confined to sleeking in small alcoves off the kitchen, like animals. Many don’t even have their own personal space. If you can’t’ afford to treat them like human being your aren’t wealthy enough to afford a maid.
Posted by Zeina Masri, November 4, 2009
Best Thing for the Lebanese to do is not hire maids from abroad. If you are so unhappy with them coz they put sleeping pills in your tea or use drugs then maybe you should hire a local Lebanese to wash your dirty underwear. Shame on you M. There should be a law in Lebanon that the local women should do the chores maybe and not hire Ethiopian, Eritrea, Pilipino, Nepali women to do their dirty work and eventually Kill them. It’s disgusting.
Posted by M., November 2, 2009
Fred, when you threat a human worst than you would do with an animal, you don’t need to be educated, you need to go to jail. Shame on those families, for the first time in my life I’m really ashamed of being Lebanese. Anyways, congratulation not to have followed your parents.
Posted by Fred, November 1, 2009
The underlying issue behind this sad story is that we Lebanese are racists. I’ve known quite a few families who have employed these women and they all view “black” as slave and dirty. We need to educate people (maybe with TV ads) that these women are poor human beings that need to be treated fairly. I’ve jump started the process with my own parents.
Posted by Jenna, November 1, 2009
I can’t imagine workers being treated this way in Lebanon, it’s such a shame, I can’t believe there are families who beat the housemaids who work for them, so much of civilized nation.
Posted by morkos, November 1, 2009
All of the comments are posted on www.nowlebanon.com, in respond to the November 1/2009 news article “Suicidal circumstances, over the last two weeks, four Ethiopian women in Lebanon were found dead, probably from suicide.”
(NOW Lebanon is independent, non-sectarian, and includes members from all Lebanese political, ethnic, religious and socio-economic groups and persuasions, according to the website)
Lebanon: What a Hellish Place for Ethiopians- “ምን ዓይነት ሊባኖስ ነው!”
Ethiopians, like the Ethiopian airplane are falling and crashing, as it were. ኢትዮጵያውያን በሊባኖስ ሁሌም እንደተከሰከሱ ነው
On Monday, January 15, 2010, all the 90 passengers and crew members in the airplane that fell into the Mediterranean Sea perished. Among the passengers, there were 51 Lebanese and 23 Ethiopians. Another Ethiopian Airlines airplane was landing at Beirut Airport an hour after the crash. Flight was never interrupted even during such a seemingly unbearable condition, for there were and are many reasons that make the airline shuttle between Beirut and Addis Ababa. There are so many reasons to fly back- and-forth. For instance, the Ethiopian Minister of Workers and Social Affairs said, “There are about 50 thousand Ethiopians residing in Beirut.” 50 thousand is a huge number for a single city.
Nearly three years ago, on April 30, 2008, the Ethiopian government had made an announcement for the second time: Parents cannot send their children to Beirut for purposes of employment as such travels are banned as of April 24, 2008--the government cautioned those concerned.
Woizero Zenebu Tadesse, State Minister of Workers and Social Affairs, said at the time that the ban was imposed because of the fact that the employment travels were becoming a threat to the safety of citizens. “Ethiopians employed as housemaids in Lebanon were being victims of food deprivation, solitary confinement and sexual harassment,” she added. She further remarked that the Ethiopians tend to commit suicide because overwork, maltreatment and cultural and linguistic differences.
However, even legal agencies are still using different visas to send citizens to Beirut illegally. The 50 thousand Ethiopians working in Beirut went there both legally and illegally, according to the State Minister.
Who sends the Ethiopians?
Some say it is the government and others point their fingers at “avaricious business people.” Meanwhile, there are evidences that clearly show that the issue is recognized by the Ethiopian government, and that there is an agreement between the governments of the two countries authorizing the flow of the workers. For example, The Ethiopian Reporter had reported at the time that “the governments of Ethiopia and Lebanon have agreed to send various professionals to Beirut.” According to the June 2005 report there are 8 thousand men and 30 thousand women who were to be sent to Beirut, and, to accomplish this task, 8 agencies were established and started their operation--each depositing $37 thousand in Lebanon and $25thousand in Ethiopia. Therefore Ethiopian women are sent to the torturing place of many with the recognition of the two governments. Although there are licensed enterprises that dispatch people, the export incentive, so to speak, is provided by the government. Well, that is if it is assumed that those who get the trade booming are different from the government.
Not only our airplane; our compatriots also crash in Beirut, as it were, routinely.
“I can’t believe this. How could anyone do such a thing? Aren’t they our Ethiopian sisters who just died? What did we do to deserve this?” This was a comment given to foreign journalists by an Ethiopian woman who rushed to Beirut Airport to investigate the accident. She was furious because she saw Ethiopians, who ran to the airport shocked by the accident, isolated and jammed in a single room.
A cousin of her, who similarly came to Beirut looking for a livelihood, was flying to Ethiopia in that ill-fated plane. And she was pushed aside because of her despised citizenship. She wasn’t able to even grieve properly. Could it be that Ethiopians in Beirut are not allowed not only to laugh but also to grieve?
As has usually been said, Lebanon is not a good place for Ethiopians. One of the Ethiopian women who died in the crash had been heading home fresh out of prison. Our sisters have had to go thru a lot of pain.
The perplexing fact is that immigrating to Lebanon or other countries is an opportunity few lucky ones enjoy: it is sort of a prize many pay so dearly for. It looks that there is some kind of divine verdict in line with Survival of the Fittest. As if their being called “Ethiopian servants” is not enough, as if nothing happened to them, they are being held responsible for an accident that killed their own sisters.
The number of headlines related to Ethiopians in Beirut in private and public papers in Ethiopia is so huge that it is difficult which to pick and which to leave. Zethiopia has collected the following:
- · Young lady slaughtered in Beirut (Goh May 29, 1999)
- · The body of a young lady comes home in less than a month after she left for Beirut (Genanaw November 24, 1999)
- · The body of an Ethiopian woman gets lost in Beirut (Addis Admas May 06, 2000)
- · An organization announces the beating of Ethiopians in Lebanon (Addis Zemen March 01, 2001)
- · The ordeal of 25 thousand Ethiopians in Lebanon gets exacerbated (Nation October 24, 2002)
- · 80 Ethiopian women in prison without charge (Ginbot 7 Dimts November 2009)
- · 34 Ethiopians that have been suffering harassment return home ( Ethiopian News Agency July 21, 2009)
What is being waited for?