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Lebanon’s mistreatment of grief-stricken Ethiopians

By Patrick Galey

Even though there were nine nationalities aboard the Boeing 737 jet which burst into flames and crashed into the sea minutes after taking off in a violent thunderstorm on Monday morning, the Lebanese, naturally enough, only concerned themselves with one.

54 Lebanese, almost all from the country’s predominately Shiite southern region, are probably dead and the nation’s outpouring of grief has been intense.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri declared Monday to be a national day of mourning for the victims; the education minister closed institutions for two days as a mark of respect.

The funeral of a southern businessman, who worked for a food import country in Angola, attracted international media attention, with veiled women throwing themselves on the coffin.

Distraught friends and relatives are still thronging a hospital in southern Beirut, waiting to identify mangled bodies being dragged from the eastern Mediterranean.

The search for the plane’s black box is continuing, with families of victims waiting anxiously for clues on what befell flight ET409 in the seconds before disappearing off radar screens for good.

As with any air disaster in a post 9/11 world, terrorism has been raised as a possible cause, with several Lebanese dailies carrying uncorroborated allegations that the crash was the result of a “deliberate attack.”

Whatever the cause of the disaster, it has exposed the uncomfortable and often unuttered truth that many Lebanese are still virulently racist.

23 migrant domestic workers from Ethiopia were onboard the ill-fated flight, along with at least seven airline crew members. The pilot was also Ethiopian.

In the absence of concrete facts, Lebanon’s transport minister suggested that pilot error may have downed the plane, with the jet having undertaking “a very strange and fast turn” seconds before crashing.

This was all the information many media outlets needed. Naharnet, an English-language news site to be read with a shovelful of salt, carried the offensive headline: “Ethiopian pilot flew wrong way!”

The complete lack of evidence aside, it is certain that no such exclamatory tone would have been used if the pilot were Lebanese.

The inference here is simple: an Ethiopian pilot – silly him – ignored the learned Lebanese air traffic controllers (who have an exemplary record for departure punctuality) and his mad error killed 90 people.

Such scandalous journalese, however, pales in comparison to the appalling treatment of friends and relatives of Ethiopian passengers.

At Rafik Hariri International Airport, while wailing Lebanese family members were consoled by round after round of politicians, offered food and drink and drip fed information on victims as and when it was received, Ethiopian concerned were sidelined totally.

Desperate women, dressed in the scrubs which often adorn domestic workers, pleaded with authorities for information only to be shepherded into a separate room from Lebanese mourners.

DNA databases that will be used to identify mangled corpses are only being compiled from Lebanese blood samples. No Ethiopian has been asked to participate, even if relatives were on board.

A normally well-respected broadcaster conducted a live piece to camera outside a hospital with their Beirut correspondent on Monday night.

An Ethiopian, wracked with grief, unwittingly wondered into shot only to be literally hauled out of view by the Lebanese crew. Had she been Lebanese, it is unthinkable she would have been treated like this.

Much has been written on the plight of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon. The relatives of one Ethiopian victim said that their daughter was on the way home to Addis Ababa for good after years of being beaten by employers.

To witness the neglect of friends and relatives left behind in Lebanon will offer Ethiopian families no comfort.

The BBC even commissioned a special report on the Lebanese diasporas in Western Africa. No such article was mooted for the reverse demographic.

It is entirely understandable for news agencies and civilians to take interest in their own nationals during times like this.

But to systematically sideline, even vilify Ethiopian victims, many of whom would have led a pitiful existence in Lebanon in domestic servitude, exudes exactly the opposite of the mercy relatives of Lebanese victims are pleading for.

In times of disaster, people let down their guard. The disaster of flight ET409 showed large parts of Lebanese society for what it is.

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26 thoughts on “Lebanon’s mistreatment of grief-stricken Ethiopians

  1. Any conclusion about the incident by the Leanness authorities is premature and ill intended. The facts will surface in due time. Remember we are dealing with the Middle East.

  2. This is neither the first nor the last. We all remember how they treated Ethiopian war victims during Israeli-Lebanese war? They just did it again.

    The disrespect and barbarity the Lebanese have for people originating from poor countries such as from Ethiopia is beyond imagination. We read, heard and saw that. They don’t even want to know the cause of their poverty and servitude to them is not their making.

    I wish Israel turn them into ash. This is what they deserve.

    God bless Ethiopia and its people.

  3. Generally speaking the Arab world is not a good atmosphere for any one. However the Lebanese are worst of all. This should be known in all of the news outlet as a warning to any Ethiopian who think of going there for a better life. Ethiopia under the Weyane regime is bad but still better than going to Lebanon. I would rather be a beggar in Ethiopia than going to Lebanon.

  4. i am lebanese and it makes me very sad to hear how you are talking and thinking about lebanon. – i want to be honest i know what you are talking about. Personally. i had many confrontatons with my friends and other people when it comes to topic how lebanese threat your brothers an sisters. – for me it is the modern kind of slavery. – and i wish that once the behaviour and the understanding towards your country, africa and the people towards others natons will change in the near future.


  5. Yilma, You are absolutely right.
    Had these sisters of ours who perished in the crash were able to work in their country they wouldn’t have travelled to Lebanon in the first place, leaving their families that loves them more than anything in this world. It is being poor that forced them to go to un-inviting and country un-friendly people.
    From what I read on the news, most of the passengers were in detention in lebanon for not having legal residence and some of them were returning back to Ethiopia because they were not able to bear and cope with the suffering they were facing in Lebanon. The final decison was god’s and they ended up dying in this gruesome tragic accident before seeing their families which were every second in their minds after they left them. I can’t explain how i feel about them and their loved ones who were waiting them at Bole early Monday Morning. I can’t also imagine what their families gone through when they heard that the Airplane, flight 409 who was carrying their loved ones has crashed in the seea. May god give the strength to their relatives. RIP my beautiful and young sisters.

  6. Very heart wrenching and deeply saddening and degrading. Had we had a government who has respect and concern for its citizens it would have filed a complaint to the Lebanesse authorities , international org. and the International media.

    What am I thinking? to begin with why do we have to choose to immigrate and work in servtude under the most inhumane conditions? Because we have even the worst masters at home.


  7. @mario

    It’s amazing how some one accusing others of being barbarians would wish for an entire country to turn to ash, your blind jealousy is abhorrent.
    and this whole article is misleading and biased, the minister stressed that it’s NOT the pilot’s fault he was just revealing some of the recordings of the tower,no more no less.
    This said, Yes racism exists in lebanon but no more so than in the US or britain or france or any other country but most of all whichever hellhole mario comes from.

  8. To my Lebanese brothers and sisters

    We got nothing against you. Our sisters and mothers come to work in your country, you didn’t come to our country; therefore, you have every right to do what ever your civilized mind allows you. We can’t force you to be civil and just. The girls are at your mercy. But it won’t be long before those girls leave your country and stop coming to be treated like dogs. Yes we expect better treatment, we have hosted arabs in our country before the oil boom in the middle east and they were never treated like this. I can tell you though, no country has ever lived in peace that mistreated innocents, particularly Ethiopians. They all paid the price. You think time is stagnant, no it flips. We may see Lebanese working and immigrating to Ethiopia sooner that you think but we will treat your with civility.

  9. It is just sad what is comeing down on Ethiopians. I really don’t know what to make of it, we have been bombarded with all kinds of negative outcomes one after another.Let us work together to get weyane out of out country and stay home.

  10. Although its heart breaking,shocking and unbearable but not new and this is how Arabs treat black Africans for years and Habeshas are no different.It may not sound fair to present every single Arab as evil but the majorities are evil and barbarian when it comes to a dark skin person.Its not that they are uncivilized and fools but rather showing contempt towards Africans no matter whether the subjects are moslems or not.The irony though,Africans in general and Habeshas in particular welcome them with open arms
    not only thier investors but people who were displaced because of war and other economic reasons.Untill the end of the 1960’s Eritrea was full of Arabs from all over the Middle East working as labourers and worked thier way up to became store owners.They were treated with respect and humanity not because they were poor Arabs or neighbours but
    thats how Habeshs treat human beings no matter who, where and what.
    Remember,this does not mean that we are fools but generous and if you keep treating our girls like dogs,we will definately treat yours in a reciprocal way.We have thousands of you doing business all over Ethiopia today while enjoying the respect and the good treatment of our people.
    ”What goes around comes around”

    Alah Kerim

  11. Hey guys calm down. Honestly how do house maids are being treated in Ethiopia?? They are called ‘gereds or gerdame’ by their own people. At least they are being paid better than what they can earn at home. The abuse is almost the same. “balebetu yenakewen…”. First respect your housemaids and then you can point your fingers on others. “gebezoch anehun”. You people are talking as if housemaids in Ethiopia are being treated as human.

  12. The accident is shocking and heart breaking first of all. The treatment of our grieving sisters and brothers by Lebanese authorities is sickening.In general Arabs are ignorant, barbarous and living with middle age mentality.They have got the wealth after the oil boom.They are uneducated and uncivilized camel herders living in the darkness of 10th Century mentality. We Ethiopians as a civilized society treated Arabs, Italians, Armenians, Greeks with respect and humanity.Even the first Muslim Arabs migrated to Ethiopia fearing persecution by Qureysh, the land of just king and respect. The then king treated them with respect, dignity and freedom. The thing is how could we improve the situation in our country so that our sisters and brothers work in their own land.

  13. I’m lebanese and I so understand your rage… However, it’s morally wrong to generalize this appaling racism to the whole population. A lot of people are mistreated in Lebanon, even lebanese, and this brings huge shame upon us.

    This is why there are more and more NGOs and ordinary citizens who work to liberate the minds of those who inflict suffering upon any other human being under any circumstance.

    Please rest assured that we’re not all racist, and far from being barbarian! There are thousands of people like myself and the other lebanese who commented here, who fight for the rights of domestic workers in Lebanon. You will see, things will evolve positively in the months to come.

    You suffer from seing this human injustice, we suffer also because we see it everyday and it’s very painful to see how my compatriots act sometimes. Solidarity is the first step for changing the mentalities.

    And I’m also planning to visit Ethiopia some time next summer, because there are so many ethiopians who have come to Lebanon and not enough lebanese who have gone to Ethiopia!

  14. Gebez,

    Please stay on topic. We are debating here on how Ethiopians are treated/handled during this bad time in Lebanon. Yes, there could be families who are harsh to domestic workers in Ethiopia. Are they also harsh in the same manner when they are desperate in a situation like this? If this airplane crash were in Ethiopia, do our people treat Lebanese diffrerently? This is what people don’t understand and are now debating to figure out.

    You may re-quote Yilma, but that it itself is out of context. You are not calming us. You are inflaming us.

    Be focused, stay on topic.

  15. Alain,

    Why don’t you just admit things are like that in Lebanon and rest our case. It is not only Mario that makes you a wish like that, but thousands around the world. One does not have to come from another planet to understand how bad you Lebanese are when it comes to treating poor people. The French, English, Americans? You leak their butt. That is exactly what it is. Go to Nigeria as refuges or beggars, you live respected. Same in Ethiopia. Alain, can’t you see the difference here? You don’t treat victims of any kind like that. Period.
    May Allah soften your thick skull.
    January 28th, 2010 at 11:31 AM

  16. MARIO,
    OH really…….now Israel has a heart…Don’t you see what Israel is doing to Palestine?They live in a land that they don’t own…they took people’s houses, their land, their joy, their children. Israel doesn’t even exist to us…there is nothing called Israel…It is Palestine. But i also pray that a day would come where they, israelis all rot in hell. I wish Hitler comes back, not for jews, but for whoever supports israel, and burn them down one by one.
    It is true there are bad people in Lebanon, and in every country. But Israel…they are all bad..if they really care about what’s happening to the Ethiopians they won’t be living in a house that is not theirs or on a land that they don’t own.

  17. i was really saddened with the news of the plane crash, every person on it is a human being, no matter what their origins are, and may all their souls rest in peace.

    and i would like to clarify, being a lebanese, i cant deny the fact that there are some people who mistreat those who come to their houses, from abroad, and do domestic work. on the other hand, there are examples of having those that come to work and mistreat the families they work for.

    Also, there are nice, civilized people, who treated, especially ethiopians, in a very good way, as a family and they even trusted their children with them. and this is a personal experience, she was never beaten, sat with us for lunch, me and her used toi play, and i could honestly say, i am glad she is safe in her country and wasn’t on that plane.

    there are bad people and good people every where in the world, and Lebanon happens to be part of this world.
    so stereotyping and general judgements won’t do this world we live in any good.
    every persoon, is a human and should have the basic human rights, but there isnt yet, justice everywhere.

  18. Arabs are not ignorant nor barbarians. they are humans like the rest of the world.

    it would be nice to instead of generalizing, stereotyping and behaving the same way, the same way you are criticzing, to actually to voice your opinions in a civilized way.
    the way you are blaming arabs for mistreatment, is the same misjudgment you are having and that might lead to the mistreatment, due to stereotypes, that are actually not true.

    change starts within one-self, and what happned is a sad thing, to each and every person who was on that plane, and instead of blaming half of the world, we would pray for their souls. may their soul rest in piece.

    i believe most of the comments mentioned above, is what is driving the world to the unethical behaviour the world is getting into now.

  19. you know nothing about the Lebanese ! next time u want to write an article go look for the right info with all my respect to u. if u were following the news and the Lebanese media u would have saw the importance everyone gave for the poor Ethiopians that were on board u don’t know my friend that we r people with feelings and have respect to every one around us which ur article doesn’t show at all ,well guess wht we have an Ethiopian girl living with us beeing treated as a sister she has family for god sake workin out to help them been here for 5 years ! and by the way there is a group who have been send to get back with the results of family members DNA for all Ethiopian civilians that were on board, who r human beings like us , want to remind u that when a disaster happens it dose’nt differentiate between poeple!! !!and one more thing : a good reporter reports the true information !

  20. My condolences to the families of all the passengers of the ill fated flight.

    As a Lebanese who has lived most of his life out of Lebanon, I can only say that it is not right to stereo type as most have done in the comments. Ethiopian ladies come over to Lebanon to work and to better their lives as most Lebanese do, as most of the Lebanese live outside Lebanon. We are treated worse at times, yet we know this is the price we pay for a better life.

    I believe that the best we can do now is to light a candle for those that have left us, all 90 of them, and keep a prayer in our heart for their families. May their soles rest in peace.

    As for the human error (Pilot mistake), let us wait and see what the outcome of the investigations would be. Personally, I doubt that Boeing would say anything else as their companies name is at stake should it be another fault on the Boeing 737-800.

  21. Alain,

    I was in defense of my fellow Ethiopians in time of this bad disaster. You, on the other hand, talking about the oppression/suppression of Palestinians by Israel. If you have a good heart, why not say a word in defense of desperate Ethiopians at this time? Is this some kind of double standard or what?

    You see Alain, what Lebanese families did to Ethiopians domestic workers during Israeli bombardment of Beirut is still fresh in our minds. Didn’t they fled while locking them up in their houses alive. What is this? Keeping them safe?

    Please defend the defensible. On our part, we can forgive, but never forget.

  22. Come of you guys! Plane crashed, and ppl died, that is the botom line. Tragedy. Why are you talking about all other things that has nothing to do with this tragedy? This the the time to be there for one another. Someone mentioned racisim is all over including USA. You know what? when 911 happend, ppl got a lot closer than ever. The love and the support they gave one another was remarkable. When tragedy strikes, for once, just for once set you diferences aside. My thoughts and prayers are with the familis who lost theri loved ones.

  23. Please Ethiopian brothers and sisters, boycot Lebanon, don’t waste your time there,you don’t deserve to be treated this way.Stay in Ethiopia and build your country once again. Let the Lebanese be evil to themselves and destroy their own country some more.

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