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4 Ethiopian women killed themselves in Lebanon

By Hayeon Lee |NowLebanon

Over the last two weeks, four Ethiopian women in Lebanon were found dead, probably from suicide.

From the moment she arrived in Lebanon, Martha (not her real name), 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. In the past two weeks, four Ethiopian women have died in Lebanon as a result of either suspected or confirmed suicide. Three – Matente Kebede Zeditu (26), Saneet Mariam (30), and Tezeta Yalmiya (26) – were reported in the media. Although Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) figure of more than one death out of around 200,000 domestic workers per week created waves when it was released in August 2008, the Lebanese government has taken no substantial action, and maids keep dying needlessly.

“These deaths are the tip of the iceberg,” says Nadim Houry, senior researcher at HRW. “It is only the most dramatic manifestation of a number of violations [of basic human rights] such as ill-treatment, and isolation of these workers.”

For example, it is standard practice for Lebanese employers to ‘retain’ the domestic worker’s passport, while many do not let them go out for years at a time. Verbal abuse is common as is the withholding of salaries.

Although most of these “standard practices” are illegal under the Lebanese constitution and the overwhelming majority of Lebanese, who employ domestic staff treat them fairly, the problem is that there is no law enforcement body to protect the most basic human rights of foreign maids and prosecute abusive employers.

As a result, many choose to end their lives. But even then, the suffering continues with the repatriation of the body. A Nepali woman who died at the end of August is still in the morgue.  “There are some cases where a body is left in the fridge for a long time, and neither the insurance nor the employer wants to pay for the trip home,” says Houry. The best way to stop these deaths, he says, is to hold the Lebanese government accountable. “What would be required are concrete measures by the government that would reduce the isolation that these workers feel.”

Official police sources said that the Ethiopian woman who committed suicide by jumping from the seventh floor in Gemmayze, did so because of a soured relationship with her sister. Nevertheless, Broukti*, an Ethiopian domestic worker, who has worked for more than a decade in Lebanon and is also a local community organizer, is skeptical. “I don’t believe it. If it was in Ethiopia, nobody would kill herself because she fought with her sister.”

In fact, according to the deaths recorded by HRW, much more than half of all deaths are those of Ethiopian women who make up less than a quarter of the workforce. Broukti has two explanations. Firstly, the problem is that many of the women from her country come from rural areas and pay hundreds of dollars to smugglers believing they will work in white-collar jobs abroad. When they arrive in Lebanon, they find their situation unbearable. The Ethiopian government’s ban on Ethiopians coming to Lebanon since last year has only exacerbated the problem.

Furthermore, for many of these women, the treatment as second-class human beings without family, friends, culture and humanity is insufferable.  “We are Ethiopians with a history. We have never been colonized. We colonized until the border of Saudi Arabia. We’re a very proud nation,” Broukti says.

Women worked to death in Lebanon

By Dalila Mahdawi | Guardian

They mop floors, take out the rubbish, walk the dog, buy groceries and care for the children, the elderly or disabled. Many a well-to-do and lower middle class Lebanese family relies on migrant domestic workers to take care of their household, but when it comes to providing for these women, not all return the favour.

Migrant domestic workers – women who work as live-in or freelance housekeepers, cooks, and nannies – form a vital presence in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East, where women’s increased participation in the workforce has not been accompanied by state-backed social or childcare services.

There are thought to be about 200,000 women, mostly from the Philippines, Ethiopia and Sri Lanka, in Lebanon alone. But although they are becoming an intrinsic part of the country’s social fabric, their contribution is often overlooked. While many Lebanese people are careful to ensure their housekeepers are well treated, a significant number abuse them. In extreme cases, migrant domestic workers are killed or kill themselves.

The spate of suicides has become so bad in recent weeks it prompted Lebanese blogger Wissam to launch the grimly named Ethiopian Suicides blog. The website is dedicated to monitoring media reports on the deaths of foreign migrant domestic workers in Lebanon. “I have a dream,” Wissam says. “That migrant domestic workers will be treated humanely in Lebanon and will stop trying to commit or commit[ting] suicide.”

In the last three weeks alone, Wissam notes, four Ethiopian women have died. Lebanese police say the deaths of Kassaye Atsegenet, 24, Saneet Mariam, 30, Matente Kebede Zeditu, 26, Tezeta Yalmiya, 26 were probably suicides. But as human rights activists here will testify, 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 a 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.

Reflecting the concern of sender countries for the wellbeing of their citizens, Ethiopia and the Philippines have placed bans on working in Lebanon and Jordan, but this has not stemmed the flow of illegal migrants smuggled in through third countries. Without the necessary work papers and embassy support, migrant women become even more vulnerable to human rights abuses.

One reason the women are driven to the edge is that, in Lebanon at least, they are not given protection under the country’s labour law. Such exclusion means that those who withhold salaries, confiscate passports, confine their employees to the house or otherwise abuse them, can literally get away with murder. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that five months after parliamentary elections, a Lebanese government is only now being formed.

The campaign to grant migrant domestic workers greater rights in the region has been led by Human Rights Watch. This summer, it contacted Lebanese beach resorts and found that 17 out of 27 private facilities practised some form of discrimination against such women by prohibiting them from swimming in the pool or even the Mediterranean sea.

A study conducted by the organisation last year found that more than one migrant domestic worker was dying in Lebanon each week – mostly from suspected suicide or by falling off a balcony while trying to escape abusive employers. The numbers sent ripples throughout the rights community and resulted in far more sustained local media coverage on the issue of domestic migrant workers. Judging by Wissam’s recent statistics, however, this does not appear to have persuaded the authorities to take sufficient measures to protect their rights.

The embassies of countries that supply migrant workers have a duty to protect their citizens. They could start by offering amnesty and assistance to all illegal workers, increasing their legal protection capabilities and properly informing women at home of their rights and responsibilities while working abroad. Many countries, such as Nepal or Madagascar, which are sending women to the Middle East in increasing numbers, would do well to increase their diplomatic representation from consular level to embassies.

Many migrant workers come to the Middle East seeking a better life for the families they left behind. The Lebanese themselves have a long history of migration and hardship, and should know first-hand the difficulties of living and working in a foreign country. Just as many Lebanese abroad work hard with the hopes of eventually returning home, the Lebanese should ensure that these women get to go back to their countries – alive and well, not in body bags.

15 thoughts on “4 Ethiopian women killed themselves in Lebanon

  1. The deaths of these Ethiopian girls, whether they are suicidal or foul play, are staggering for any person who believes the lives of humans are precious.

    Those who are involved in murdering these hard-working maids are always accountable in the eyes of the Almighty God.

    Sooner or later, Ethiopia who manufactures humans and sells them as chip products to satisfy the sexual appetites of the young and the old Arab Muslims is destined to take the places of Sodom and Gomorrah for committing such unforgiveable sins: the shortages of food, the shortages of good leadership, the absence of justice, the multiplicities of prostituts, and the complete dissatisfactions of the Ethiopian people with their secular and spiritual leaders – all these are omens impending to completely deracinate the country.

    In fact, some geologists predict a new ocean is in the making in Ethiopia, and this new ocean may one day swallow up the entire nation, and there will be no more Ethiopia, no more human trafficking, no more Meles Seitanawi (Zenawi), no more Azeb (Jezebel) Mesfin, and no more Aba Paulos (the Diabilos).

    The reason for this mutual destruction is understandable as St. Paul writes to the Romans audience: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away; they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.’ (3:10-12)

    Indeed, the lives of these beautiful and young Ethiopian girls have become worthless to the Ethiopian leaders as well as to the Arab Muslims who abuse them on a daily bases until these girls, tired of abuse and inhuman mistreatment, finally committed suicide. These Ethiopian girls are worthless in the eyes of Meles Seitanawi, in the Eyes of Azeb (Jezebel) Mesfin, in the eyes of Aba Paulos, and in the eyes of the cruel Arab-Muslim world; however, the lives of these innocent Ethiopian girls are always precious in the eyes of God, who created them for his own divine purpose.

    We all believe in the final Judgment Day as Saint Luke says: “The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them.” (11:31) In the same way, these murdered Ethiopian girls will rise up in the final Judgment Day and will accuse this generation for refusing them shelter, food, clothing, employment, human dignity, justice, and finally for murdering them and for covering up the causes of their deaths. The Arab Muslims are not the only ones who are responsible for the deaths of these Ethiopian girls: all Ethiopians are responsible, and the whole world is accountable for doing nothing against the evil regime of Meles Seitanawi who has been sending so many Ethiopian boys and girls to the gas chamber – the Arab-Muslim world.

    May the Rock of Ages, the Ancient One, God the Almighty, change his mind and forgive this generation of ours for killing these humble Ethiopian girls and with them the other girls too!

  2. It saddens me to hear about the horrific cases in Lebanon. The suicides committed by the Ethiopian maids, should be considered murders because their employer were the cause of these unfortunate cases. It seems that these women thought they escaped from struggle and poverty at home when they arrived at Lebanon. They didn’t leave their home land because they wanted to, but because poverty and lack of work made them look else where for improvement.
    To the employers that abuse helpless women in Lebanon and through the Arab world, shame on you. Many Arabs are Muslims. Muslim is a peaceful religion. Peaceful people don’t suppose to committee such acts.
    My heart goes out to the families, friends, and sympathizers of the women that perished away so young and so unnecessarily. As Arabs say, “Beta Harem Be-been.”

  3. it has to be investigated throughly.this is absurd and is highly unlikely for 8 or 4 peoples to die at the same time.postmortem must be done on the past there were history of organ theft from alive ethiopian individuals with out their knowledge.What possibly can it be these days??

  4. This is really a sad and common occurrence in the Mid-Eastern countries, particularly in Lebanon. The story of crimes and inhumane treatments African women imigrants expreienced at the hands of Lebanese is endless. I remember reading a story sometime ago of a young East African woman who, after overhearing her sponsor making plans to take one of her kidneys without her consent and sell it, jumped off the Balcony and sought refuge at a nearby Police Station. The sad thing is that the authorities she came to for protection handed her back to the Criminials. It’s her words against theirs. Fortunately, the Embassy of her country of origin was notified of the incident by someone and managed to get her out to safety. In another case in 1996, which I had personally witnessed, another young East African woman was admitted to our Hospital with severe injury, including broken bones on both her face and lower extremities. My colleague and I discovered this case accidentally during our routine round. Interestingly, the history of what was placed on her medical chart was different from what the patient told us happen. Briefly, what happen to her on her own account was that she came to Saudi Arabia through a sponsorship to work for a wealthy Saudi family and that she would be paid cetain Ryial every month. What she faced with was that not only was she not getting paid as agreed, she was both verbally and physically abused. Often, she was denied food and went to bed hungry. The woman she was working for was very abusive and mistreated the worker badly. After 6 months of abuse and misery, the young woman decided to take a drastic yet risky action. To jump off a 3rd floor building and run away. She did and the result was that she suffered severe injuries, including broken legs and disfigured face. We felt both sad and at the same time helpless in that we were not in a position to look for any legal action against the perpetrators. All we could do at that point was to give her emotional support and to make sure that her injury was appropriately treated. We also managed to contact her father, who happened to work in other part of the country, and broke the story. Last thing I heard was that her father came and took her with him.
    For years, we’ve heard of horrible stories like this inflicted on countless of our women who came to these countries in search of work. Unfortunately, it seems as though no organization, including the UN. has taken any concrete step to stop such a gross human rights abuse on women.

  5. This is very sad. The regime in Ethiopia is making money from exporting these women and will not stop the practice any time soon, we have to stand together to stop these women from going to Lebanon, only Lebanon is identified to be a source of trouble.

  6. observer,

    Its really sad that human dignity is being taken away due to poverty and lack of equal opportunity for its citizen in Africa, not only Ethiopia.Most of the Arabs that are involved in such large scale atrocities are Muslims.Muslim is known for its teachings that preach high regard and respect for human live-to give protection and support for needy, wholeheartedly.Then, what is happening in this countries? Are not they treating human being in accordance with Muslim teachings?.It also appalled me why religious people keep silent about this large scale violation in this countries.They need to teach,in mosques, their citizen to have love and respect for human being regardless of their power and position rather than preaching jihad.

  7. Observer,

    Most of the employers in Lebanon are Christians-please learn your geography before you make observations and generalizations about Muslims. Lebanon’s middle class are mostly Christian with minioriy sunni. The shiite are mostly poor and can not afford maids.

  8. pls someone let us know what we can do to stop this violince that is happning to ower sisters. When i am writing this, my heart is cryig!!!!!!!!!!!! pls all ethiopian’s wake up they are one of your sister.

  9. i want all ehiopians to sand with me and do something.
    1.let us have protest all over the world ( let us start from seattle washengton)
    2.I want seattle ethiopian community to take the charge.
    3.We need to start giving donation now before to let
    4.Show arbs who is abusing ethiopian womens, we are not going to sit quite any more.
    5.Do this for your sister

  10. we all must push the goverment of ethiopia to get to this incident and seek justice for our sisters.if we let this go like nothing happen
    it’s a green light for those idiot to abuse the rest who are stil there.we are living in the 21 century and if we let this go right after we watche the vidio, we are ok with it, come on our unity’ll be a power and this girls are our own sisters THE ETHIOPIAN GOV. MUST STAND FOR IT’S OWN PEOPLE AND MUST DO SOME THING ABOUT THIS VICIOUS ATTACK.

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