Unpaid Ethiopian Domestic Workers Stranded in Lebanon

ADDIS ABABA – Stranded in crisis hit-hit Lebanon, many Ethiopian domestic workers are asking for help to return back home, according to media reports.

Lebanon is suffering its worst economic crisis in decades, as well as a coronavirus lockdown.

Some Lebanese families have started paying their home help in the depreciating local currency, while others are now unable to pay them at all, with increasing reports of domestic workers being thrown into the street.

“My madam threw me out. She owes me six-and-a-half months’ salary,” an Ethiopian domestic worker Sofia told AFP news agency. Her employer kicked her out without her luggage, pay or passport.

“I want to go back to Ethiopia,” said the mother of two girls, who has not seen them for almost three years.

Lebanon reportedly started to repatriation flights from its closed airport this week, at first for Ethiopians and Egyptians.

An estimated 250,000 domestic workers live in Lebanon, the large majority Ethiopian, many in conditions condemned by rights groups.

A sponsorship system known as “kafala” excludes maids, nannies and carers from Lebanon’s labor law, and leaves them at the mercy of their employers, who pay wages as low as $150 a month.

With staff obtained at high fees from recruitment agencies even before being paid wages, and unhappy workers unable to resign without their employer’s permission, some have likened the system to slavery.

Activists say calls for help have increased in recent weeks, especially as live-in workers have been in lockdown with families. “The level of desperation has just gone through the roof. There has been a vast increase in the number of people contacting us about unpaid salaries,” a caseworker for activist group This is Lebanon told AFP.

She said a number had been sent back to their agencies with few prospects for re-employment.

In recent months, at least two people have posted ads to sell their foreign helper on Facebook, sparking outrage from activists and a statement from the Middle East nation’s labor ministry condemning human trafficking.

Image: Ethiopian domestic workers queue to register for repatriation outside their country’s consulate in Beirut [Photo JOSEPH EID AFP]

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