Ethiopian workers in Lebanon challenge their consulate: “What are you here for?”

Ethiopian workers in Lebanon challenge their consulate: “What are you here for?”
Ethiopian workers in Lebanon challenge their consulate: “What are you here for?”

A recently published open letter to the Ethiopian government drafted by a collective of Ethiopian communities and supported by several NGOs in Lebanon sheds light on the negative role of the Ethiopian consulate in the struggle against the abusive sponsorship system (known as “kafala”) in the country.

In its opening paragraph the letter states: “The Ethiopian consulate has failed to support and defend these women for over a decade, in terms of individual cases or strong advocacy with the Lebanese government.”

The letter provides various examples of the consulate’s failure over time, such as siding with Lebanese employers against Ethiopian workers, to abusive treatment by consulate staff towards Ethiopians who seek help, as well as the little resources allocated to protect and serve Ethiopian citizens in their respective cases. It also makes it clear that there is no political will within the consulate to change its own structural failures.

“The action – and inaction – of the Ethiopian consulate in Lebanon over the last 10 years shows that they are unreliable, unresponsive to women in crisis, and often perpetuate further harm on Ethiopians seeking help,” it added.

One major example highlighted in the letter is the shelter established within the Ethiopian consulate but run and funded by the Ethiopian community in Lebanon. The letter notes that the shelter, composed of only two rooms of 3 by 3.5 meters, can hold only 30 women but hosts between 50 to 130 women, all sleeping on shared mattresses, with no activities, no legal representation, and no access to counselors or social workers. Moreover, the women are often left locked inside, akin to a prison with little visitation rights.

Additionally, two major cases are highlighted in the letter as premium examples of the consulate’s failure. The first is the death of Alem Dechasa in 2012 – a mother of two children, who was viciously beaten in front of the consulate, with no intervention from the consulate, and dragged away by men from a recruitment agency to a psychiatric hospital where she committed suicide three days after the incident.

The second case is that of Lembibo, a 26-year old woman who was allegedly raped by her employer and found drowned in the swimming pool at the home of her recruitment agent in May 2018 days after her baby had died a few hours after birth. Despite calls for an investigation by the Ethiopian community and Lebanese NGOs, the consulate did not provide any legal support or conduct a proper investigation.

The letter bluntly asks, “What is the real mandate of the consulate staff? What are they here to do? Who are they here to serve?” It also claims that the Ethiopian consulate is complicit in the abuses in Lebanon.

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