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80 Ethiopian women languish in Lebanon jail

BEIRUT, LEBANON (IRIN) – Eighty Ethiopian women have been in Tripoli Women’s Prison in north Lebanon for over a year, accused of not having a passport which was either taken from them when they started as domestic workers, or which they never had in the first place. Most were arrested on the street after running away from their employers – usually because of abuses ranging from forced confinement and starvation to physical harm and rape. Some had fled after being accused of stealing.

Having broken their work contracts, which guarantee them a flight home on completion of two years work, and with no passports, the girls are in limbo.

“The reason these women continue to sit in detention is because the employer doesn’t want to pay for the girl’s ticket home, General Security [Lebanese intelligence agency] doesn’t have the money, and often their embassies are unaware of their detention,” said Roula Masri, coordinator for the Collective for Research and Training on Development Action, an NGO campaigning for workers’ rights.

Kholoud, from Sudan, has been in Lebanon for 18 years. She came with her husband and two children to escape conflict and unemployment. But when her husband was deported, she said, he took all the family’s official papers with him. “Now I can’t prove that I am Sudanese to obtain a new passport … so I am stuck here.”

She struggles to pay $110 a month for a one-room apartment with no kitchen, refrigerator or running water, and relies on donations from friends to pay for her children’s education.

Rights groups say an estimated 200,000 domestic workers in Lebanon – most of them women from the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Ethiopia – are not protected by labor laws.

Last month, after a two-year effort by rights groups working with the ministries of labor and justice as well as General Security, the authorities promised

to enact a new unified contract for migrant domestic workers that would improve their working conditions.

For the first time, workers will be able to read the same contract as their employer in their own language. Work terms have been extended from two to three years and the contract states the women should only work 10 hours a day for six days a week and are entitled to eight hours of continuous rest. Salaries, which Human Rights Watch (HRW) has reported can often be withheld as punishment, must now be paid and signed for each month.

The employer, however, will still have the right to break the contract for whatever reason, which means the worker is then responsible for paying for her ticket home or repaying any debts owed.

Workers will still not be guaranteed the right to retain their passports.

Despite this move, activists say a change in the law is needed to ensure the new contracts and the work of placement agencies are regulated.

“Experiences in other countries, such as Jordan, which already have a unified employment contract and a minimum salary for domestic workers, show that a contract is not sufficient in itself and that a law protecting these workers is needed,” said HRW senior researcher in Lebanon, Nadim Houry.

In February, eyewitnesses reported seeing a domestic worker fall from a sixth-floor balcony to her death in Beirut’s central Hamra district.

HRW says domestic workers are dying at the rate of more than one per week in Lebanon, most through suicide or in risky attempts to escape. – IRIN

8 thoughts on “80 Ethiopian women languish in Lebanon jail

  1. There is no hope to leave and work in Ethiopia.Our sisters sufferd every where in arab countrys when we allowed woyane dictators to damage Ethiopia.we must fight together to remove woyane now.

  2. May god bless our country and wish to see history reversed and see all stupid arabs come to ethiopia as maids. It is much better to be maid in your own country than be out side for arabs. They all are uneducated and do not feel humanity to other citiznes specially for ethiopians and eritreans.We need to change our mind set there are many people back home started from scratch with hundereds of birr and now owns huge assets. It is true that we all need money or food to live and we might not get that in our areas for severall reasons either by our own weakness or….however life is not all about money.It is much better to live with dignity than treated as animal for rifrafs.

  3. The very reason why so many women goes in the first place and provided with a passport from the Ethiopian government is based on getting remittance in the forum of foreign currency to accumulate in their private banks. The officials as well as the representative of the embassy already knew how these illiterate women were forced to change their religion and in most part raped. As far as the Melese government is concerned, these are expandable, exactly the same way they used the men at the 19898-2000 war with Eritrea, Do they give a damn? Hell not and the consequence is people like them in jail and the number of soul lost for a war that the Ethiopian lost…This is what the present day Ethiopia is all about.

  4. I am Lebanese living in the USA at the moment with my family. This made me very sad and embarressed. I was there 5 years ago, and I know the attitude of these people hiring maids. They don’t consider them humans, maybe they treat their dogs and cats better. May God be with these ladies. I am very sad and ashamed.

  5. Isn’t it part of Ethiopia’s embassy in Lebanon and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’s job to look after the interests of Ethiopians abroad and come to their rescue when faced by similar circumstances.

    Furthermore, isn’t it within the job description of the diplomats in Addis as well as embassies abroad including the chief diplomat, the Minister himself, to defend the dignity, and safety of Ethiopians; and safeguard the respect and status of the country in international arenas.

    Ethiopians in difficulty are not limited to the Middle East but suffer similar, though somewhat different, fate in Kenya, South Africa, etc
    One wonders, therefore, how Ethiopians would differ from other nationals who belong to failed countries or stateless ones who lack protection and representation. The very purpose of having embassies abroad!

  6. The Arabs are not our enemies; our enemy is Meles Seitanawi who sells our Ethiopian girls to the Arabs without telling the girls what will happen to them if they go to the Arab world. It is sad to see them in the streets of the Arab cities, wandering and begging for food and shelter. Some of them are lost and never come back to Ethiopia because of the shame they have received from their Arab employers.

    Ethiopia knows how to produce lovely girls but does not know how to educate them, raise them properly, and provide them high-paying jobs. If they work as prostitutes, they get the HIV disease; if they work as the employees of someone, that someone still takes advantage of them or mistreat theme badly. My desperate advice to all the Ethiopian women is “do not give birth to a girl if you know you cannot educate her and bring her up properly.” The problem is how do the women know whether they would give birth to a boy or a girl? Am I suggesting that if they know they are going to give birth to a girl, then they have to terminate the pregnancy? No way! The choice is theirs. If they choose to terminate their pregnancy, it is a bad choice. The best choice is to avoid sex if it is possible and remain celibacy until a person is ready financially to raise a child

  7. A sad story in rela life. Can’t Ethiopian and Lebonon embassys in different countries co-ordinate along with Human Right orgs. and Ethiopian political and Civil Organization?

  8. Yes this is very sad story, i really pray to God to bless our country so we don’t have to go to another country specally Arabi.But i don’t know why Arab people do this to our sister and brother please God forgive them. I have brother live in Jeddah right now he is in jail with out doing nothing wrong we are keep praying to my brother and all ethiopian suffer in arab country.

    Let me ask you question all arbian ppl you don’t have sister, family or brother? so why you do all this bad things for human being? i believe in God one day… one day you will get back what you did this all ethiopian…….God bless you

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