MWTF Video in reflection of Alem Dechasa

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Jun 4 2012

The suicide of Alem Dechasa, an Ethiopian maid publicly abused by her employer on the streets of Lebanon, continues to receive world-wide scrutiny. The video documenting her abuse went viral almost immediately, followed by interviews with her employer and government figures. Dechasa committed suicide before she could tell her own story, relegating the the narrative to the hands of the abusers - and the system which perpetuates abuse - once again.

This video created by the Migrant Workers Task Force redirects the narrative to migrant workers. The Migrant Workers Task Force is a civil society organization based in Beirut that works to raise awareness of human rights abuses and provide community support and services to migrant workers, among other a variety of other activities.

Their latest project features the reactions migrant workers, primarily Ethiopian domestic workers, to Alem Dechasa's fate. The video successfully amplifies the voices of Lebanon's most marginalized population, already earning substantial recognition across the country. Below is an interview we conducted with the group about the video, which is available for viewing here.

The "Justice for Alem - Migrant workers speak out" video was made together with migrant worker students in MWTF's weekly Sunday language classes as a response to their feelings, thoughts and reactions to Alem's case. MWTF volunteer teachers cater to nearly 200 migrant students in three locations in Beirut: Zico House (Sanayeh), Sudanese Cultural Club (Hamra) and Migrant Community Center (Nabaa).

Has Alem’s case outwardly affected migrant-employer relationships?

None of the students participating in our language class (those that are migrant domestic workers) has noticed any change in their relationship with employers after Alem's case and none of the employers have even mentioned the case.

How has Alem’s case affected migrants’ outspokenness of their conditions? Has it effected the awareness of Lebanese citizens?

It has definitely affect migrant's outspokenness as we can see from the video produced. This was the first time our students spoke up about their conditions they face in Lebanon. Following this we have worked further on writing stories and other ways for them to express their voices about the issues and challenges they face in Lebanon.

The case was also high profile in the Lebanese media and raised awareness by activists and concerned citizens.

However, the portrayal of Ali Mahfouz, in a popular Lebanese talk show, painted a warped picture of the situation and led many Lebanese to sympathize with the perpetrator of violence rather than the victim.

Do you think such cases of abuse are linked to the sponsorship system?

We believe so. The sponsorship system allows for exploitation as it excludes the migrant domestic worker from Lebanese labor law, freedom of association, and not guaranteed their freedom of movement. It reinforces the dependency, master/servant dynamic, and the power imbalance between Lebanese employers and migrant domestic workers.

Do you think authorities are taking adequate steps in response to Alem’s suicide? What kind of long-term change do you think her case will have on Lebanon’s migrant workers?

No we don't. Many of the reactions from our students was towards the lack of accountability of the Ethiopian embassy in Lebanon. They accuse the embassy of perpetuating the trafficking of migrant workers to Lebanon and not helping them when in need. For example, Alem's body is still in Lebanon and has not been transported to her family in Ethiopia- why?

What kind of action or reflection do you hope your video inspires?

The main aim with the video is to share the voices of migrants and their reflections to the Alem's case, as often their voices are not well represented in the media.

Moreover, we hope to encourage more action towards fighting for rights of migrant workers in Lebanon.

Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East