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Alem Dechasa’s lonely death

By Clar Ni Chonghaile | The Guardian

BURAYU, ETHIOPIA — Alem Dechasa left Ethiopia in January to work as a maid in Lebanon, where she apparently killed herself. Her journey started in Burayu, a poor settlement outside Addis Ababa.

Lemesa Ejeta sniffed and cleared his throat but could not stop a tear from slipping down his cheek. His four-year-old daughter, Yabesira, had just run out of their mud-and-straw house to play, and it was as if he felt he could at last let go.

He struggled to describe the last time he saw his partner, Alem Dechasa Desisa, the 33-year-old mother of Yabesira and Tesfaye, 12. Alem left Ethiopia in January to work as a maid in Lebanon; she apparently hanged herself in a hospital room after she was beaten on a street in Beirut, allegedly by a man linked to the recruiting agency that took her there.

Alem’s journey to a lonely death started in this one-room hut in Burayu, a bereft settlement outside Addis Ababa where mothers like her and fathers like Lemesa face a Herculean struggle to survive each day.

Alem was one of many women who defied an Ethiopian government ban to work as housemaids in Lebanon, hoping to make life better for their children. It was a heartbreaking choice to have to make.

“She was in a queue at the airport but after she entered the terminal she was told it’s not time for her yet … and so she came back to see us,” said Lemesa, tears flowing down his cheeks, as he described the day she left.

“Our daughter, Yabesira, said, ‘If you’re leaving, who is going to dress me for school?’ and then she cried, and I cried and then Alem cried,” he said, speaking through a translator.

Two of Alem’s handbags hang from a nail on the wall. There are a few wooden chairs, a coffee table and two small mattresses leaning against another wall. In a corner is a straw basket made by Alem. Outside, the lean-to where she used to cook traditional, flat injera bread was cold and full of ashes.

Alem’s case has lifted the lid on the plight of migrant workers in Lebanon, where human-rights groups say they are regularly abused. Human Rights Watch says one migrant worker dies each week in Lebanon from suicide or other causes. They have no legal protection, and this is why three years ago Ethiopia banned its nationals from travelling there to work.

Alem’s beating, in late February, was broadcast by Lebanese TV in March and has been viewed by tens of thousands on YouTube. Newspapers and human-rights groups identified the man in the video as Ali Mahfouz, brother of the head of the recruiting agency. He has been charged with contributing to her suicide. He says the agency was trying to send her home because she had mental health problems.

The video showed Alem being dragged along the street outside the Ethiopian consulate. Her hair was pulled and she was bundled into a car. She was later admitted to a psychiatric hospital. A few days afterwards she apparently hanged herself.

In a statement , Human Rights Watch quoted a social worker with Caritas Lebanon Migrant Centre as saying that Alem first worked with a Lebanese family for a month but was returned to her agency because of communication problems. She did not get paid. Her second job only lasted a few days.

Alem allegedly told the social worker that a recruitment agent had beaten her and threatened to send her home. The statement also said she had previously tried to kill herself by drinking a cleaning product and by jumping from a car.

The mystery surrounding Alem’s life and death in Beirut hangs heavy over Burayu, where children in ripped clothes that are too thin for this rainy March day cluster around huts, as donkeys bray and hammers clank in a nearby quarry.

Lemesa has not yet told Yabesira – which means “work of God” – or Tesfaye that their mother is dead. “They are suspicious of something because people have been coming here, crying, but I am afraid to break the news to them,” the 31-year-old said. “Sometimes the children see her photo and ask when she is coming back to Ethiopia. If I tell [Yabesira] she is dead, I am afraid of the questions she will ask me.”

But when asked about reports that Alem killed herself, Lemesa, said: “I haven’t heard anything about her committing suicide.” Suicide is a taboo subject in Ethiopia, especially among Christians such as Lemesa.

Lemesa said he had heard only that before her death she was beaten. He later saw a newspaper article about the beating, but he has not seen the video, which prompted protests by Ethiopians.

A neighbour, Tadelu Negash, a 27-year-old mother of four with tight braids, was originally going to go to Lebanon with Alem but decided not to when she realised the process was illegal. But she has not dismissed the idea.

“We have no other option. We don’t want our children to suffer like we did … When we see what happened to [Alem], we feel very sad … But when you see the reality here, there are problems after problems, so much suffering, so we think it’s not such a bad idea,” she said.

Alem and Lemesa lived in Addis Ababa for nine years but eventually could not afford the rent there and moved to Burayu. Things got no better, and they decided that Alem would go to Lebanon. “We got the idea from our neighbours … Almost everyone is going to work abroad … So if everyone is doing it, we thought we should give it a try … She said she would work very hard and return,” said Lemesa.

It cost about 10,000 birr (£360) to send Alem to Beirut – about 4,500 of that went to the broker, a man who will only speak on condition of anonymity. He said a relative working in Beirut gave his number to an employment agency, which contacted him to ask if he could find workers.

He said he saw that Alem was struggling and suggested she go, claiming not to know about the government ban. “After what happened to Alem, I received information that it was banned … The agency hasn’t asked me again, but I have quit,” he said.

Ethiopia’s consul general in Beirut estimates that there are between 60,000 and 80,000 Ethiopians living in Lebanon, 43,000 of them legally. Tigist Mengistu is among them.

Tigist, who used to go to church with Alem, left in 2010. She has told her parents, Derebie Begi and Mengistu Birrie, that her job is easy but has not sent any money since repaying a loan from her father. “Since what happened to Alem, I worry the same may happen to my daughter,” said Derebie.

“Alem never got any rest when she lived here,” said Mengistu. “She was always cooking injera and trying to sell it on the streets. She went to the forest to collect wood and leaves for cooking.”

Human Rights Watch and other groups have urged Lebanon to reform restrictive visa regulations and adopt a labour law on domestic work. “[Alem’s] death is an outrage on two levels – the violent treatment she endured and the absence of safeguards that could have prevented this tragedy,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East and north African director at Human Rights Watch.

Lemesa is now waiting for Alem’s body. But he has another problem: Alem’s parents say he was separated from Alem and that he has had a child with another woman. They say that is why she left. Lemesa has denied this, saying he and Alem were never legally married but had been together for 13 years.

Lemesa and Alem’s brother Leta both want to be put in charge of Alem’s estate, and any compensation. Lemesa has been to court to determine whether Alem’s children or parents are her legal heirs. The court cannot rule until the body is returned.

The legal wrangling is understandable: for people with so little, it is a matter of survival. It was almost impossible to unravel the allegations of infidelity: about the only thing everyone seems to agree on is that Alem never seemed depressed.

“She was perfectly healthy when she was here,” said Lemesa. Alem’s mother and father, who had come from the countryside to fill in forms at the foreign ministry in Addis, agreed. They were dressed for official business: 75-year-old Dechasa Desisa wore a faded, striped suit with a purple shirt while his wife, Kafany Atomesa, had a black headscarf and a traditional white netela shawl.

Alem was the fifth of 11 children. Her parents had come from Gindeberet in Oromia and they were accompanied by Leta, who works as a truck driver’s assistant. He translated from Oromiffa, the language spoken by his parents, to Amharic. When asked if Alem was ever depressed, Kafany shook her head – and at that moment the single bulb lighting Alem’s hut gave out. “[Alem] was always laughing. She was always giving advice to people,” she said into the dark.

17 thoughts on “Alem Dechasa’s lonely death

  1. OHH,this poor mans heart is broken beyond one can understand and comprehend.
    may god give the rest of her family the strength to move past this very difficult time. she is already in a better place with her creator, but the pain and grievance of her loved ones, specially her kids and parents will not go away for as long as they live. it is what you inherit when your family is cut short for what ever reason. but this particular familys hurt is too great to overcome by the nature of her demise.

  2. Please! Mr. Elias dont insert stick to our wound. Once she was slaughtered and sacrified on the pagan’s altar for their god.As a spritual man the death of this lady has deeper secret.Her death is pecularly different from the death of other murdered ladies of my Ethiopians.Her death conveyed deep message for the ethnic group she represented. Why is that the media is covering her story now and then? To make whose heart to bleed? i strongly belive that it was adeleberate act to present her on the media from A-Z,TO insight enemity beteween Arabs and Ethiopians. I do have alot of spritual revelation why she was perseqited on daylight. Ibeg you again Mr. Elias, if you can, would you remove it from the post? Rather it is better to moblize a fundraising post for her children and her family.

    Selam Jibejal replies:

    Ato Elias – pls don’t let annonymous comments such as by this untamed guy who calls name on Tamage…except for TPLF and its benefactors, Tamagne is a true Ethiopian who is fighting for a true cause!!! If only there are many like him, the struggle to bring about a change will occure.

  3. ELIAS
    is there a way to raise fund? or a group who are interested to help 10-20 dollars form each of us for the family of Alem Dechasa pleas let me know.thanks ..

    pleas Elias contact me. or any one Else interested..thanks

  4. I still believe, she didn’t commit suicide, that young mother was brutally murdered, possibly gang raped. Has anybody seen the final result of her autopsy from an independent medical examiner?

  5. The brutality and the cruelity had been shown for the world to see how our sister,the mother of the children,while in pain was dragged on the street was finally forced to be thrown into a car as if she was a disobdient goat;she was not an animal;she was crying;she was children awaiting her to come home alive;she was not a criminal;she was not broad-shouldered a violent man,like the man,her tormentor;she was an Ethiopian woman trying to earn money by flowing sweat.

    We have been losing too many of our sister the way we lost Alem,the mother of two children.Why Arabs hate Ethiopians? What have Ethiopians done wrong to them and became too cruel towards our children? The lose our child,our sister,our Ethiopiawit eats our stomach.Ethiopia and Ethiopians were uncoditionally kind to Arabs.What was that the Arabs did not get while they were allowed to live and prosper in Ethiopia?

    Arabs lived and prospered in Ethiopia for years and years;finally,when their wealth reached their teeth,they left Ehtiopia.why did not simply tell Ehtiopians that they hate and don’t want to see us;simple and clear.We shall not foreget what the enemy that invaded our country twenty one years ago is doing to our children;respect is on a scale;the rist civilization of humangeings is respect,and respect is on a scale.Ethiopians,we must work and fight our common enemy,the enemy that has been denying our children freedom,democracy,and opportunity since 1991.It is only when we crush the Zinawi’s regime to its complete defeat that we can keep our children from the crushing jaws of those barbaric Arabs.Down to Arabs! Death to Hiwhat regime!

  6. Elias: I truely believe that you care about your people and country however we Ethiopia and the whole region of the horn of Africa needs more Elias’s to fight the injustices that are being committed against the whole region; led by Melese/Abebe/Legesse and his boss Mebrahtu G/hiwot. Keep the heard fight against the sophisticated slaves weyanes and their terrorist followers all over the world.

  7. We have already identified the sources of the problems;what are the causes of the problem? What are the sources of the problems,and what are the solutions for the problem?

    Problems: death caused on our sisters,lack of opportunities for our children;absence of proper governance in Ethiopia;animosity or hatred;insanity and brutality of Arabs.

    Everything starts from the source:- rivers start from the source,as the sufferings of our children start from the invading forces that do harm to our children from the hatred that they have for our children.If there was a government obdient to the public,there would be democracy in our country.If a family or a citizen is not a member of the illegally ruling party,no chance for equal treatment;therefore,for the disobdient government,forced treatment is the choice and the option,but for our children no choice;just imprisonment or death because there is no democracy the country that they were born and the country that are forced to die.

    Our sister ran to the woyanae consulate believing she would be saved because she had no choice;she never chose to die.The Woyane consulate general had two choices and options to save the life of our sister;either to let her take a shelter in the consulate general or to call the police and stop the beating and the dragging and arrest the police at the spot or in the police station.What purpose is the woyane regime in Ethiopia for? If it is not for our children,who is it for?

    OK,things went out of control due to the the negligence from the consulate and the cruelity of the men involved in the beating and dgragging,and forced confinement of our sister by the men in the illegal act,but once,our sister was taken to the hospital,why did not the consulate general send someone from his office to follow up the condition of our dead sister whose life could have been saved if member of the woyane regime in the consulate general acted out of compassion and sympathy.Well,in a democratic country,such as Kenya,Embassy is just like a watchdog,a watchdog;acts before harms happens to its citizens.Taking own life is the result of hopelessness and helplessness,but the major and the potential sources of our sister being hopless and helpless is Zinawi,his men and women,and the deprivation of equal rights for equal opportunity since 1991,the coming of murderers and looters to our country.

    We could not stop our tears from flowing,neither we could stop our heart from being broken because our childreen are continue to die.Those childreen who have perished in the Arab world are our children,not the children of Zinawi or men and women of zinawi who keep the suppressive and oppressive regime running.Can we not stop the running beast!

    Isnèt the death of our sister public issue ie public crying,public out pouring tears.Removing Zinawi and his regime is really achievable.

    weygud replies:

    The question you raised why did the consular follow up? The answer most likely is that TPLF and the brutal abusers and agencies are working together.

    I heard that Ethiopian virgins are also carefully selected. If they are, they go to the highest bidder. Apparently it was found out that Alem already has children which became no interest for Arabs.

    It is easy to blame Arabs. We need to get rid of the culprits from the source as one mentioned above: TPLF and Alamoudi. Period. This video being taken and followed up on her death is not an accident. Someone is sending a message to Ethiopians. Either to instigate war between Arabs and Ethiopians, between Muslims and Chrisitans since it happened in the prominent Muslim nations.

    Shame on you the so called OLF Jawar Mohammed who recently wrote about concerned for Muslims in Ethiopia. How narrow minded. He is in pocket of the so called Alamoudi. He is OLF, which he claims to stand for Oromos but first thing he wrote, about the lame irrelevant issue, when this should be dire.

    Once again the so called ethnofascists TPLF and OLF demonstrating to us that how fake they are pretending to stand for their ethnic groups but leading them into jeopardy. Oromos, please make your own party that unites the rest of Ethiopia. OLF is copy of TPLF. While that is happening, Oromos are dying.

  8. I just wonder if the criminal Meles & Co. watch this video. Unlike many of us, Meles & co. probably smiled and said “So what”….

    The sooner we remove Woyane, the better we can avoid such a tragedy!!!

    Hagos replies:

    They did that in front of the so-called Ethiopian Embassy, imagine . This people, the wayanes, are the enemy of Ethiopian people . please, let us help her family

    blameless replies:

    is it not true the “Meles & Co” made working in Lebanon illegal, and here you go saying they are too blame for this incident???
    Nobody either knows all the facts behind this tragic event?

    Wondimu replies:

    @blameless why are you in denial????….The contempt act of Arabs on Ethiopians is the result of woyane’s disrespect for Ethiopians. As habesha saying “Balebetu yalakeberewin, manim ayakebirewim”

  9. The suffering and death of the Ethiopian woman at the hands of the Arabs is and indication of how inhumane these people are. She was drugged in front of the so called Ethiopian Embassy standing and witnessing the abuse of his compatriot.
    Mr. Embassy worker – do you know how to call the police? Why did you not call the police if you are scared of your self intervening on her behalf?
    I cried my eyes out for this poor woman. Do not tell me she hanged herself. They killed her!
    Hell to Weyane who divides our people for the sake of their survival.
    Stop sending our sisters to these ruthless and murder Arabs. My God (Allah) burn the wrong doers in Hell!!

  10. These monsters were probably trying to steal her kidney. Apparently it is wide spread practice in Lebanon to steal kidney from the poor house maid coming from Philippians, Srilankans, Ethiopians and Eritreans. Poor Alem, she was probably trying to escape from it..I don’t believe for a minute the story that she was suicidal, and even she was, she probably choose to loose her life instead of the despicable act be performed on her by these monster Lebanese patrons. Apparently it is a big business in the Arab world to steal kidneys from these poor defenseless house maids and refugees.

  11. If this doesn’t wake up Ethiopain people all over the world, I don’t care what ethnic group you are, Ethiopians will never wake up. We shouldn’t allow the story to die, we should dig deep, who is who. We should hire private investigators, etc. Once again the culprit behind, tPLF is showing its true colors, silence. They were silent when Ethiopain airlines got bombed as well. Is there as more enemy to us than TPLF?

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