Saturday, March 19, 2016

An Ethiopian domestic worker kills herself in Tripoli. Again.

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“There we go again. Another migrant domestic worker committed suicide. It happened yesterday, in Tripoli, Lebanon’s largest northern city.” I wrote that on March 19, a year ago. Strangely, like a macabre anniversary, the same thing happened again, a year later, on the very same day.

Yesterday, Lebanese daily Al-Joumhouria reported than an Ethiopian domestic worker threw herself of a balcony in Tripoli – without further details, but with terrible photos of the woman’s alleged suicide. 

What was her name? What happened? What drove her to such an act? Did she actually kill herself as the daily reported or did she slip and fell while trying to escape? The photos are unclear. In the fist one (see above), she’s standing on the ledge of the balcony, looking down. In the second one (see below), it looks like someone is trying to help her by holding on to her hands. In the third, she’s laying on pavement, dead.

This last photo is unbearable: around the woman’s body, people are just standing by, no one seems to care about helping her, no one is checking if she’s dead or alive, no one is doing anything except taking pictures, as if she was some random dead animal.

Will there be an investigation? If there is, will we know its outcome or will it be swiped under the carpet and forgotten in a day or two?

There are around 200,000 migrant domestic workers in Lebanon. They come from the Philippines, Madagascar, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and Ethiopia. They come to clean our toilets, sweep our floors, iron our shirts, buy our groceries, walk our dogs and raise our kids. They come to Lebanon to work and earn enough money to send to their families back home. Even if the majority is well treated by the Lebanese they work for, many are living under dreadful conditions and can be considered as modern day slaves – according to the Walk Free Foundation, an organization aimed to end modern slavery in the world, there are an estimated 21,400 people in modern slavery in Lebanon.

Unfortunately, many of them never return home. Not because they enjoy Lebanon, but because they die.

A Human Rights Watch study shows that their mortality rate is alarming. Some frightening numbers: out of the 95 domestic workers who died between January 1997 and August 1998, 40 committed suicide, 24 fell accidentally from the balconies of apartments they tried to flee, and 2 were plainly murdered. The following years were not less terrible.

Commenting on a previous blog post 'What? There’s human trade in Lebanon?'Mugs, a fellow blogger, writes: “Among the darkness of the story you tell, there are little spots of light. Female domestic workers are beginning to use mobile phones and social media to organize and protect themselves (e.g. NARI Group of Nepalese Feminists in Lebanon, FENASOL), although many workers have to take big risks just to get a SIM or airtime and need to conceal their phones 24x7. The embassies of some countries (e.g. Philippines) do take protection of their workers seriously, though many do not. Migrant outreach and support services are being provided in Lebanon through centers (e.g. Migrant Community Centre Beirut and Caritas), but they need much more funding and support. The voices of domestic workers trapped without rights are being documented and published (e.g. KAFA, Human Right Watch) with other reports being prepared by international bodies seeking to design interventions to improve the situation.”

Over the years, many awareness campaigns were designed to shed light on the issue but none really changed anything.

Last year, I worked with the NGO March on a campaign for Mother’s Day. The below visual was widely shared on social media along with the caption: “On Mothers Day this year, remember thousands of moms from around the world are in Lebanon, far away from their kids, doing their best to provide for their families. All that, under horrible conditions that border on modern day slavery. This week alone, two domestic workers died of unnatural causes. On average, one domestic worker commits suicide in Lebanon every single week. May this Mothers Day be the last sad one for Lebanon's foreign domestic workers.”

But soon it was forgotten, and nothing was done to truly change this unacceptable situation. And today, as Mother’s Day is around the corner, yet another domestic worker died of unnatural causes…

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