BEIRUT

Lebanon News

Rock for migrant workers' rights

Musicians perform at T-Marbouta in support of migrant rights. The Daily Star/Martin Armstrong

BEIRUT: Over 150 people attended a rock concert Friday night at the recently reopened T-Marbouta café in Hamra organized by the American University of Beirut (AUB) Human Rights Club in collaboration with the Migrant Workers Task Force (MWTF).

Attendees paid an entrance fee of LL 10,000 with proceeds going toward the purchase of supplies for English and Computer courses offered free to migrant workers at Zico House, Sanayeh and the Migrant Community Center in Nabaa.

Performances came from Mohammad Hodeib, Entity, The 80’s Revolution, Resonance, and EEE’s.

Prior to the music, a buffet of Ethiopian food was served which included: “Doro Wat,” a spicy chicken dish; “Enjera,” Ethiopian bread, lentils; and “Alchamote,” a salad made from carrots, potatoes, and beans.

The highlight of the night’s music came following the scheduled performances, when Eddouard Abbas, from Lebanese hip-hop group Fareeq el Atrash, was joined on stage by an Irish guitar virtuoso known endearingly as “Irish Don,” in an impromptu collaboration that no one expected. Following their performance, the event developed a certain spontaneous open-mic feel, with Edd exclaiming at one point: “Welcome to T-Marbouta has talent.”

On each table, small cards written by migrant workers were placed detailing the difficulties and discrimination they have faced living and working in Lebanon both from employers and Lebanese society in general.

One such card, whose author was anonymous, read: “Some employers treat us as though they own us...We came here as employees not as slaves, and we should be treated as such.”

Hanèn Keskes, an AUB student and organizer of the event, chose to promote the rights of migrant workers after having witnessed racism towards Africans and Asians living and working in Lebanon.

“Just the other day, I was at General Security,” explains Keskes, "and I saw employers renewing their domestic workers' visas. They wouldn’t even let them hold their own passports. It made me so angry, I thought – 'How can you do that?'"

Speaking to The Daily Star, Janie Shen, one of the founding members of MWTF, described the event as a positive way to spread awareness of migrant workers’ issues and recruit new volunteers to help the organization’s initiatives at Zico House and The Migrant Community Center.

Chen commented that while there has been an increase in advocacy and campaigning for the rights of domestic workers in Lebanon following the tragic death of Ethiopian Alem Dechasa-Desisa in March of this year there is still a long way to go.

“Human Rights Groups and NGOs have become more active and migrant communities themselves have become more mobilized,” said Chen. “However, for real, concrete change to occur, we need to change attitudes and perceptions both in society at large and on a legal level.”

Alem committed suicide a month after she was physically abused outside the Ethiopian consulate in a videotaped incident that drew international attention.

There are approximately 200,000 domestic workers in Lebanon. Human rights watchdogs have said that some employers withhold wages from domestic workers, deny them time off, and that some workers suffer physical and sexual abuse at the hands of their employers.

 

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