Alem Dechasa was an Ethiopian domestic worker illegally working in Lebanon.
On March 14 her employer beat her so badly she was taken to a mental hospital. Two days later she died of an apparent suicide.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs is working to inform citizens that, like the unfortunate story of Alem shows, the grass is not necessarily greener on the other side.
“Women should work in their own country instead of going abroad where they will be exposed to all sorts of abuse,” said Emebet Mulu, deputy director of public relations and communication at the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. According to the deputy director all those who prepare to go to the Middle East are those who haven’t really understood that there are a lot of good work opportunities in their own country.
There are 219 employment agencies registered with the Ethiopian government with an approved license that send domestic help abroad. These agencies are responsible for thousands of women migrating to Arab countries. The agencies initially, among other things, go through a test to see if they fully understand the proclamation number 632 on employment exchange service.
“The employment agencies always have an unexpected inspection to see if they are doing things according to the proclamation,” said Emebet. The proclamation states that suspension of agencies’ license occurs if it fails to protect the rights, safety and dignity of citizens it deploys abroad.
“A committee was established in 2012 to control illegal activities in employment agencies. And Andero and Nihemya are the latest employment agencies to be suspended. Their case is being examined carefully. The committee works with the investigators and legal team and either revokes their license or places them on suspension,” explained Emebet.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs sends domestic workers to Dubai, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
“People who go to other countries other than these three are not protected by the proclamation; all the employee agencies that are registered with the government are allowed to send workers to those three countries. But there are those who migrate on their own without being affiliated with agencies and there are those who migrate by obtaining visas illegally. We cannot help them because we will not have any information about them,” said Emebet.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs gives training to those who are working on the process to go to the Arab countries. The training addresses issues like how they can send money to their family from there, how they can protect themselves from harm, how they can contact their agent if something happens to them and other helpful information. The training is supported by educational films and people who have returned from working in the Middle East sharing their experiences.
“The experience sharing part of the training is very important. They can get firsthand information on how to deal with problems they may encounter; such as what to do if their passport is taken by their employer or how to protect themselves from sexual abuse. Most of the women at these experience sharing sessions say that women can protect themselves from sexual abuse by dressing appropriately and not communicating with the men in the house,” stated Emebet.
Every day there is training conducted in the morning and afternoon, and around 1,000 people attend each training session with the numbers rising every day. Every other day 20 new cases are brought to the ministry.
The recent suicide of a domestic worker in Lebanon – Alem Dechasa – and the subsequent viral video portraying her being beaten and dragged into a car has been the talk of the town. There have been support outlets through various blogs and social networks.
A candle light vigil was held in Meskel Square on March 18th where people gathered to put pressure to do more to stop domestic abuse. Other peaceful demonstrations were also held in Canada and US.
A new website “Middle East domestic help abuse reporting,” has also been set up in the memory of Alem Dechasa. The website enables people to report abuses they know of or they have gone through by filling out a form with information that is posted on a website. There are already 137 reports of torture, attempted suicide and murder.
“I cannot comment on her case. To begin with she was in Lebanon illegally so the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the one who is dealing with that case,” said Emebet.
Some are calling for the Ethiopian government to ban workers migrating to the Middle East, just like other countries such as the Philippines, Madagascar and Nepal have done.
“We always start the training for those who are leaving by trying to convince them to stay. In the end some of them will decide not to go through with it but the majority will still pursue it,” stated Emebet.