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Testimonies from Migrant Domestic Workers in Lebanon

On March 7, 2011

Below are excerpts from testimonies of runaway migrant workers gathered by the staff of a great Lebanese NGO, KAFA - Enough Violence and Exploitation. These testimonies appeared in their recent newsletter and shed some light on what migrant workers in Lebanon go through. Their stories illustrate the fact that workers run away from their employers not because they wish to make more money or meet men, as some employers may think. All the workers interviewed for the KAFA newsletter had to flee their employers due to abuse they endured at the hand of their employers or extreme need. The excerpts are posted here with permission.

First is the tale of a migrant worker named Mina. She described a horror tale of under-payment, starvation, abuse, overwork and police apathy.

My name is Mina. I am 29 years old, and I come from Nepal. I have been living and working in Lebanon for 5 years. I have a problem in my family, mainly an economic problem... I arrived in Lebanon on the 5th of January of 2006 and worked with my first employer for almost 22 months, but only received $1400. My mother was very sick in Nepal, she was in the hospital, so I demanded my employer to give me my full salary but I did not get it. Instead, the employer said she had already paid me $3500.

My madam sent me to work in her relatives’ and friends’ houses. I used to work every day from 7 am until 9 pm. I did not even get enough food. Sometimes I only had bread and tea for the whole day and worked all day, with only bread and tea. One day, I asked for my full salary and I told madam not to send me to work outside the house, and I said that, “If you don’t give me my salary I will not work at all”. After saying this, I was beaten right away. She even used shoes to beat me. Unfortunately, my hand was broken and I could not work for 10 days. My right hand was broken and there were bruises all over my body. I was only taken to hospital 10 days later... When I was done with my treatment, I came back to the house and cried a lot. I told the employer that I wanted to travel to Nepal. She answered that she would only buy the return ticket but not pay my salary. So I decided to run away.

First, I went to the police and told them everything, but they dropped me in Beirut somewhere under the bridge. They told me that if I have friends, I could go with them.

Lily from Madagascar shares a tale of sexual abuse.

When Lily arrived to Lebanon in 2006, she did not know that cleaning an old lady’s waste was part of her work. Neither did Lily know she was going to serve a “sick” old man who forced her to do “sickening” things. One day, Lily woke up and decided to end the torture. She ran away thinking that whatever awaited her in the world outside would be better than her endurance inside that house, particularly, inside its bathroom.

“He never sleeps at night. He keeps walking in the house and near the couch in the living room where I used to sleep. He never let me sleep anyway.” Lily had to be available 24/7; but available for what? Something she described as disgusting that still makes her want to vomit. “He would simply ask me to hold his penis whenever he wanted to urinate...” That was the old man’s sickness. He could never use the toilet without having Lily’s hands holding his genital organ. With an eye blink, and a “Lily, yalla”, her daily nightmare begins.

Lily tried to resist many times, in vain. She called the employment agency to complain about her employer’s creepy behavior only to hear them saying that she had to do everything she was asked to do.

Makeda from Ethiopia shares her story of severe physical and sexual abuse at the hand of two employers.

The first seven months she spent in Lebanon were at a house where she suffered continuous beatings and sexual abuse by her male employer. Makeda could no longer handle the situation, so she ran away without any of her papers, thinking that by simply leaving, she would save herself from the intolerable violence she endured. But instead, Makeda got caught in another violent employer’s hands. It was hard for her to believe what was happening to her. Again her days were full of fear, physical violence and sexual abuse. The same torture began, only that this time she did not wait seven months to end it. Two months later, the same scenario took place. She ran away from her second employer’s house and went to her friend’s place. She decided to work without living in her employer’s house.

These horrible stories are not an exception and many other workers in Lebanon endure severe abuse that drives some of them to suicide. The Sponsorship system that regulated foreign labor in Lebanon ensures that migrant workers who run away from their employers even in cases of abuse lose their legal status. This, and police apathy, discourages many workers from complaining or leaving their employers, as these women have.