Lebanon News

Ethiopian groups: Consulate complicit in abuse

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks at a news conference at his office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia August 1, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

BEIRUT: Four Ethiopian community groups in Lebanon Thursday called on Ethiopia’s prime minister to investigate the alleged inaction and complicity of the country’s consulate in Lebanon in the abuse of Ethiopian domestic workers. In an open letter addressed to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the organizations said the local consulate had “failed to support and defend these women for over a decade, in terms of individual cases or strong advocacy with the Lebanese government.”

The letter was signed by Mesewat, an organization that provides financial and legal support and shelter for migrant workers in Lebanon, in addition to Egnalegna Besidet, 50 Lomi and Fikat le Ethiopia.

Ethiopia’s top diplomat in Lebanon, Mohammed Berihu, could not be reached for comment.

The four groups also called for an investigation into conditions at the consulate’s shelter, which they said had, at times, held up to 130 women in cramped conditions. “These women are survivors of abuse from their employers, and are trapped in the shelter for months without any access to services and justice for what they’ve suffered,” the letter said.

Ethiopian women have often been seen sleeping outside the consulate building, apparently after being barred entry. Neighbors have also intervened to provide food and blankets during the winter.

The vast majority of Ethiopians in Lebanon, of whom there are an estimated 200,000, are employed in domestic work. Rights groups have repeatedly called out the extensive range of abuse that migrant domestic workers are subjected to in Lebanon because they are not covered by the country’s labor code.

Instead, they are employed under the notorious kafala system, which Labor Minister Camille Abousleiman has likened to “modern day slavery.”

Currently, domestic workers can’t change their contract without their employer’s permission. Doing so can lead to imprisonment and subsequent deportation.

Between one and two migrant workers are estimated to die each week in Lebanon, many from suicide or during botched escape attempts.

In an effort to reform the system, Abousleiman in April enlisted five local and international NGOs to provide their input. He told The Daily Star on Thursday that he had received good recommendations and was now working with his team at the ministry and General Security to work out the details.

While he said he preferred not to disclose the exact reforms until later on, he said “it includes changes to the kafala system and new contracts.”

“I’m trying to do as much as possible discretely without getting everyone riled up. We’ll have our proposals done in about 30 days and then we’ll need public consultation, so by the end of the year we should have the whole thing ready.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 11, 2019, on page 2.

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