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Maid in hell

The footage aired by LBCI last week of a foreign worker being abused—presumably by her employers or members of the agency that lured her to Lebanon with promises of a decent wage and equally decent work environment—is shocking but hardly surprising. Lebanon is not Europe, and if we are being honest, the conditions in which almost all domestic workers have to work would not be tolerated in the countries to whose ideals we aspire. In short, thousands of Lebanese families—most of whom like to think of themselves as decent and humane—have, wittingly or not, bought into a culture of slave labor and an increasingly virulent unofficial form of apartheid. 
 
The government—if one can call it that—simply cannot stay silent on the matter. Too many young women have died, either at the hands of violent employers or by committing suicide after enduring unbearable isolation, abuse or medieval work conditions.
 
This is not only a tragedy on a human level; it is a shameful stain on Lebanon’s reputation for tolerance and compassion. The Gulf Arabs who vacation here may not care about how we treat our domestic workers (their track record is hardly stellar), but if Lebanon wants to do more business and build stronger ties with the West, it had better remember that agreements come with conditions on basic human rights. We may not behead people in public, and we stopped routinely torturing political activists when Syria left, but we still suffer from a crude racism, and the world is catching on to our grubby secret.
 
Hence the need to reverse the trend. There should be zero tolerance on discrimination. Leisure establishments and beaches should not be allowed to bar entry to foreign workers—or, to put it more accurately, dark-skinned or ethnically diverse domestic workers—and any found doing so should be fined and the owners arrested. 
 
There can be no room for those who say that the instances of abuse are minimal compared to the number of migrant workers in Lebanon, that by and large they are treated well and that they come here of their own free will to earn more money than they can at home. To make this point is to ignore the basic human rights abuses that are carried out daily under our very noses and to dismiss the fundamental aspirations of a society to fulfill its moral obligations to its fellow human beings.
 
It is also to reject the notion of checks and balances that ensure workers’ rights, the equality of all in the eyes of the state and the right to redress through the justice system. The people who stood by last week when the poor, wretched, and no doubt terrified woman was being bundled into the car clearly saw her as a lesser being, undeserving of their sympathy. (Indeed one wonders what would have happened if a police car had passed by. It is unlikely those assaulting the woman would have been arrested. At best they would have been asked to sort out the dispute in a less public place.)
 
The migrant worker debate extends beyond the shameful way in which we treat those who come to Lebanon to make a better life. The influx of foreign domestic staff has not only shaped a generation’s view of manual labor, but it has led to capital flight of nearly $200 million each year. 
 
Lebanese now equate domestic work with that of a second-class citizen and would rather stay at home and miss out on valuable income than risk the shame of being seen doing housework. This is not the case in Western cities, where ordinary people are happy to work for a decent wage, either as housekeepers or nannies, but in Lebanon we are clearly too good for this.
 
If we are incapable of treating people with the dignity they deserve, maybe we don’t deserve to employ them. Maybe we should learn to clean our own homes, do our own shopping, walk our own dogs, make our own coffee, and, more importantly, look after our own children. Maybe we might learn something… Then again maybe we won’t.

  • Tobby

    Lebanese don't get internation ethic though few of them practice some basic moral ethic they have got from abroad But for foreigners have no rights and are poor people and have no values, and when it comes to black it is worse because of our color to be honest. Why do we welcome them in Africa and they psychologically, physically, kill us daily. The trend will change, we'll have African summer. We better do business with the west, and chinese than slave traders and human traffickers. The world is changing fast and actions are being taken seriously.

    March 24, 2012

  • Jamal

    This poor woman was killed by this man. She did not commit suicide. What I can't believe is that there were so many bystanders who did nothing to help this poor woman. Unbelievable.

    March 18, 2012

  • Annoniem

    YYYYY Whilst I agree with your characteristics that describe many Lebanese, there is racism in the west. But the difference is that there is an effort by some organizations to fight racism & there is one law that applies to all citizens & is enforced. Your Idea that Lebanese blame everything on Israel is pure exaggeration. Given what that country has done to Palestinians & Lebanon I think it's quite insensitive and offensive of you to minimise Arab grievances of Israeli crimes to hemorrhoids & other minor issues. What has happened to the abusive employer or the man seen to be terrorising Alem Desisa?

    March 16, 2012

  • yvonne Jean Rabie

    Stop the slavery Stop the ignorance ....stop it right now ...

    March 16, 2012

  • Doctor

    She is killed by media and doctors. Hospital is responsible too. Patient whom given antidepressant drugs should be monitored closely because antidepressant increase at beginning the suicidal  thoughts , especially that she has tried before to kill herself.

    March 15, 2012

  • Lenx

    The poor woman has died now. She committed a suicide in the psychiatric hospital where she was taken by Caritas, after being taken out from the Adlieh detention centre for foreigners. She was terrified of being deported with no money to take back home. You all talk here about racism and human rights, but mostly on individual level, mistreating by individuals. But I think this case shows perfectly well to the problems with the system, with the failure of the State to protect workers (I'd say more in general thatn just migrant workers). What kind of contract did she have, did she have any? When did the labour inspetion visited the Agendy that brought her to Lebanon? etc etc... It is a systemic problem and we should be screaming at the State.

    March 15, 2012

  • yyyyy

    PK...I am also Lebanese, and yes lebanese are rascist,rude inconsiderate,lazy,unreliable and in denial. I actually live amongst a big Lebanese community and our people are very rascist we tend to hate everybody and always blame everything on someone else espescially Israel even when one of us has haemroids we find a way to blame israel. In reply to the America Afghanistan thing that is a RETARTED comparison when you compare apples and tabbouli. Firstly if this incident happen in America that would of have been a crime. But in Lebanon this Ethiopian maid is just another dark skinned maid. Does Lebanon have serious problems yes it does.

    March 15, 2012

  • L

    Dear Pk, why should we look whats happenning in Afghanistan? why cant look first in our own little country what we create as a hell experience for these people coming in this land? why should have excuses,such as, we havy many problems in Lebanon? Am sorry,these are all pettyful Excuses!!! intentionnal effort strarting by ourselves before comparing ourselves to what happens elsewhere...present moment and present land...

    March 15, 2012

  • nimportequoi

    @yyyyy: I am a Lebanese living in the west and I know many of the racist behavior from the WEST against many foreigners my dear "yyyyy". Did the action that the US soldiers do in Afghanistan represent an example of the respect that you pretend to have for the Human rights .... We have a lot of problems in Lebanon and definitely racism is one of them but I know also many nations that are facing problems in that too. Please think before your write.

    March 14, 2012

  • mrv2011

    Here in the West we have animal rights, you physically inflict physical harm on an animal you go to jail. But slavery still exists in the ME, With actions like this Do Arabs deserve human rights.

    March 14, 2012

  • Dont Generalize

    Check out this video on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pqdZVfKnN0E&feature=youtube_gdata_player

    March 13, 2012

  • Sami

    The question to ask is how is it that a country of 3.5 million people have 200,000 foreign maids? how is it that Lebanese complain about cost of living and poverty, yet we transfer over $500 million dollars annualy to siri lanka, ethiopia, and phillipine! having a live in maid is considered top luxury in the west - not even the richest can afford. How is it that a country like Lebanon with all these maids as for aids? and how is it that countries such as France, USA, Turkey and other countries give Lebanon aids - yet average french and american and turkish people don't have live in maids. How can someone in Lebanon with $500 salary afford a maid? and how is it that the Lebanse goverment allow these maids to come work here?

    March 13, 2012

  • freelebanese

    Lebanese society of full of sh-t and so fake. it is the most racist and bizarre society i have ever seen. superficial and lack culture & manners and common sense. if there is a problem to Lebanon, it is because of the 80% of Lebanese who need to be burned and tough culture and civilization again. they can claim as much as they want that they are French or Europeans, but when you are not civilized,cultured, you are nothing. this is the effect of politicians letting such thing pass and accepting it as part of our identity, so they rule over chaos. track the plate number, and put the guys in prison.but it is from 2ouza3i,means militia people,means 8th of march,means you know the rest ......

    March 13, 2012

  • SAM540

    I can not comprehend how cynical the Lebanese society is. I always argue with my friends telling them that the domestic work system in Lebanon is a modern day slavery. They look at me like I am from Mars! I developed a very simple reply: "Would you be willing to work under similar conditions?" Obviously no one would. Its slavery pure and simple!

    March 13, 2012

  • Tyrianette

    This is simply Lebanese false sense of superiority and desire to emulate the Europeans. Look at us we are Lebanese living in the Switzerland of the M.E. with our imported slaves doing the basics. But it is abysmal failure and makes Lebanon look like a cultural and ethical backwater. Egyptians are similar to Ethiopians in facial features and ethno-geography, are you going to start treating Egyptians like that, like in Ketermaya with that lynching. Don't tell me the guy deserved what he got because the crime was so terrible, because that would never have been done to a European had they done the same crime. Yeah Lebanon got a problem.

    March 12, 2012

  • hussein

    Easy. Forbid countries to send domestic workers to Lebanon. Problem solved. But then what can you expect from people who pay their employees a monthly salary of $200. Just that ridiculously low number invites people to treat the workers like crap.

    March 12, 2012

  • Norman

    My cousin told me about a friend who was visiting Lebanon and was refused entry (she's Japanese) at the Army beach because "servants" weren't allowed. This woman is an engineer (not that it should matter what her profession is!). The person refusing her entry was given a good talking to and eventually relented and let her in. Before they had the chance to put their towels down, though, he showed up and said he'd been told she was not allowed to use the beach and that she had to go. Countries sending domestic workers to Lebanon should absolutely forbid the practice and the Lebanese should learn to do everything mentioned in the last paragraph of this article...especially the part about looking after our own children.

    March 12, 2012