Do not forget Alem Dechasa

Alem Dechasa's Family
Alem Dechasa’s Family

We have murdered a human being. She didn’t just commit suicide. Every single one of us has now blood on his or her hands. How did we murder Alem Desisa (or Dechasa)? I’ll let the Anti Racism Movement answer this:

[Original Post] – [Arabic Version]

It’s been always really hard to explain how a girl, a migrant domestic worker ends up committing suicide. And what makes it harder is when this girl is killed and then claimed that she had committed suicide in order to protect the Lebanese employer from legal prosecution.

In the Anti-Racism Movement, we have been trying hard to follow up these kind of incidents, and each time we end up hearing the same news: “An alien domestic worker had committed suicide by jumping out of a balcony, or burned herself or hanged herself in Mahala al-Jadeedah.

In the Anti-Racism Movement we always try to verify the news and get to the bottom of it and try to search for the answer in the building where the incident took place, then we ask the neighbors and the surrounding shops on whether they have spotted the “suicided”, then we head to the police where answers should be provided. But the  answers are not given, and we go back to the employer to try to know the answer why she had committed suicide.

Each time we do this. Sometimes where we get lucky to get answers from the employer or obtain the standarized police report, the result would always be the same:
“An incidence of suicide had been reported to the police, where the police had attended to verify the incident with the presence of the coroner who submitted a medical report that he had found no signs of violence, rape nor struggle so he concludes that it’s a suicide incident.” And what’s so strange that none of the lifeless bodies are examined for toxicity, unless it’s asked from the doctor by someone who would pay the $200 cost of this test, but not the state of Lebanon. And so the case is closed after this amazing report and the embassy or the consulate is requested to permit the transfer the deceased body back to her homeland.

Three years and we had been exposed to the same situation and same report. Three years and not a single thing has changed. Only one new thing has been done: once in the Police report: “… a body of a Nepali domestic worker from Africa…”!

No change in the media, its coverage of this situation or its amount of attention regarding this same issue. No change in police actions and its professional investigation that it carries out in each of the cases. No change in embassy or the consulate in protecting their right in staying alive. And No one changes anything.

Today another domestic worker died. But today the sorrow in me is not only because another lost innocent soul, but also because you all knew who she was, and witnessed her death. And with your silence you have participated in her murder. You murdered her when you didn’t demand a law to protect her, when you didn’t object for the resignation of a Minister who fought to cancel her slavery legal system called Kafala.
You murdered her when you saw how she was dragged by the hair and beaten in the middle of the street, and only found it enough to share the video on Facebook and object while setting in your comfortable houses on your fancy computers.  You murdered her when you were racist to her sisters, when you forbade them from swimming in your pools, from shopping in you markets and from eating on your tables. You refused a weekly day off, you refused to eat their own food, you refused them practicing their normal life without affecting their duties towards you. You murdered her when you confiscated her passport and called her by her nationality not by her name.  You murdered her when you didn’t pay her her salary, when you raped her and when your courts didn’t give her justice, when you made her sit behind for being ashamed of her sitting beside you. You killed her when you preferred sitting still in your relaxed house rather than doing action and demonstrating for her protection and when you didn’t support the law that guarantee her rights as a human being.  You killed her when you dealt with the legal trafficking office that buys and sell the slaves. You killed her when you didn’t ask why she had committed this action to her soul.

Why would a woman who left her family thousands of miles away, leaving behind her house, her homeland, her friends, her kids and maybe her first love, borrowing thousands of dollars to come to Lebanon through many airports of Dubai, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria and then Jordan end up in Beirut airport? Sleeping on naked floors of airports, trapped in small unwelcoming waiting rooms only to get to Beirut, to be led and delivered as a goat. Brought to the trafficking office to be sold to the family that pays most and consider her as its own property.

Why did she commit suicide after going through all of these hardships to only work hard for couple of hundreds of dollars to be sent to her old mother and  father or to her  son and daughter to be able to have a decent life and education, or to her husband to establish a work that can elevate them from the hardships of the poverty or to her brother so that he won’t go beg in the street, or to save enough money so that she would go back to her country to continue education?

Have you ever considered that she might have missed her family and never was she allowed to contact them?

Have you ever considered that she works 17 hours on daily bases with no rest?

Have you ever considered that she had not been paid her salary for two years where her father might be homeless her mother might be dead or her whole family might be strayed?

Or maybe raped?

Or beaten?

Or was forbidden from practicing her religion, tradition and culture?

Or had worked in three houses at one time ?

Never given the chance to visit her homeland through the three years of her work

Never been given food to eat more than once a day?

Slept on the naked floor in the balcony?

Aren’t all of these enough reasons to commit suicide?

Haven’t they killed her when they did all of this to her?

Does the Lebanese investigator need Sherlock Holmes to help him in finding the obvious?

Hasn’t your indifference killed when you saw what happened to her and stood still as if nothing had happened?

You killed her three times, when you didn’t do her  justice to her sisters, when you didn’t move a finger for her and when she died and you didn’t mention her name.

My grandmother had always told me: “those who are silent when there’s injustice are mute devils.”

Alim Deseisa today is the victim of your mute devils.

When will you decide that you will stop being accomplices?
If you don’t get angry now, when will you be ?

Ali Fakhry
The Anti-Racism Movement

UPDATE: Furthermore, I heard from Ibrahim Diab that Ethiopians in Washington DC protested against Human Rights Abuses in Lebanon in front of the Lebanese Embassy. It happened on Thursday the 15th of March.

Who was Alem Desisa?

Alem Desisa was married with two children. She is from Burayu, not far from Addis Ababa and had been in Lebanon for 2 Months.
That’s all I know for now, if you have any more infos and especially pictures please write them in the comments section or send them to joey@ayoub.ch – I’ll be updating this post every time I get more info.


UPDATE 17/03/2012:

Article from “KabobFest” [Original Post]
“The struggle to End Domestic Slavery in Lebanon”

Since uprisings began rocking the Arab World last December, I’ve watched far more Youtube videos documenting horrifically violent incidents than I like to think about. There were crowds run over by trucks in Cairo, marchers shot in Tunis, Syrian soldiers kicking bound detainees, women dragged and beaten in Tahrir, Bahrainis shot with tear gas canisters, Palestinians, Libyans, Moroccans, Jordanians, Saudis, Omanis… Like many others, this year I have learned dozens of ways to kill people that I had never thought of and scores of tactics to humiliate and terrify innocents that I would have never dreamed of. By no means have I been desensitized to the violence, despite the repeated exposure. But at some point, the feeling of deep moral revulsion that sticks in your gut and makes you want to scream stops coming around so often, and by the 12th month of the Syrian revolution you begin to wonder if anything will ever affect you that way again.

And then a video like this comes around, and I know again what it is to have my entire body shake in moral revulsion at the cruelty human beings can inflict on each other.

The video does not show protesters in some Bahraini village or government forces in Baba Amr. Rather, it takes place on a peaceful, well-maintained street in Beirut, and it involves ordinary people. There is no political message here. What you see is just a group of Lebanese men doing exactly what it looks like: physically assaulting a visibly incapacitated Ethiopian domestic worker and forcibly packing her into a car outside of the Ethiopian embassy.  The woman was later identified as Alem Dechasa, and she committed suicide only a few days later using the sheets of her bed at the mental hospital she was forcibly checked into.

Migrant domestic workers across the Middle East have almost no legal supervision and their abuse gets even less media coverage, meaning that the slavery that makes the region run is generally hidden from view. And then, once every so often, someone takes out their camera phone and reminds you just whose exploitation is making this all run smoothly.

In Lebanon alone there are between 250-400,000 domestic workers, the majority are women who come on contracts from the Phillipines, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, and a number of other countries across Asia and Africa. Millions more live and work in other countries in the Middle East, though the vast majority are wrapped up in varying versions of the kafala system. This legal arrangement makes an employer their worker’s guarantor, giving the employer nearly full legal control over life and body and in some cases, like in Lebanon, making it illegal for them to sleep outside of their home, for example. These sorts of restrictions have created an environment in which conditions that resemble slavery are the norm, and even those workers who have “good” employers that do not physically or verbally assault them regularly are unable to enjoy even the most basic rights.

According to a 2010 Human Rights Watch report, surveys reported that of domestic workers in Lebanon interviewed:

  • 7-11% report sexual harassment
  • 14-33% report physical abuse by employers
  • 40% did not have a private room
  • 31-80% cannot leave their employer’s house alone
  • 34% have no regular time off- not even one day a week
  • Vast majority had their passports confiscated

These statistics are hard to verify and are based off of only a few surveys that have been taken (hence the wide ranging figures). For obvious reasons, employers rarely allow their workers to be interviewed, and in countries with even less press freedom than Lebanon it is even harder to document the abuse. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that these figures reflect a grim reality, and one figure stands out above the rest: an average of one domestic worker dies in Lebanon every week.

It is important to note, however, that the abuse and exploitation of migrant domestic workers is a phenomenon that occurs around the world. One of the major effects of neoliberalism and global free trade has been the creation of a massive underclass of mobile workers who go to where the jobs are. They rarely receive any sort of legal protections whatsoever and because they tend to come from poor countries with little political clout, even these few protections are rarely enforced. Because they are spread across many countries and tend to be locked in their employers’ houses, it has been exceedingly difficult for migrant workers to organize in defense of their rights.

And yet, despite these odds, in the last few years migrant workers have begun organizing politically in Lebanon and around the world. Migrant worker activists (often based in the home country) have become more adept at developing support networks across the Middle East (examples include the Nepali and Filipina communities). More recently, activists set up the Migrant House in Beirut, the first migrant-led and –staffed support center in the region, providing a model for activism by migrant workers for migrant workers and supported by local activists. And last May Day, large a rally was held by migrant workers in the heart of Beirut demanding greater rights and an end to the racism that many see facilitating the flagrant abuse of workers.

Migrant domestic workers across the Middle East have almost no legal supervision and their abuse gets even less media coverage, meaning that the slavery that makes the region run is generally hidden from view. And then, once every so often, someone takes out their camera phone and reminds you just whose exploitation is making this all run smoothly.

Additionally, an increasing number of activist groups in Lebanon have begun to tackle the issue of migrant rights, ranging from local NGO’s like Kafa to activist networks such as Anti-Racism Movement and volunteer collectives like Migrant Worker Task Force [full disclosure: the author is a member of Migrant Worker Task Force]. These groups have engaged in a variety of actions such as tracking racist content in media and even producing a series of mock tourism advertisements entitled “Welcome to Lebanon” that juxtapose the country’s famed touristic attractions with the realities of life as a foreign migrant worker.

Despite these efforts, and the particularly remarkable successes of migrant worker activists in drawing attention to the issue, videos like that of the young Ethiopian woman beaten in front of her embassy remind us just how much must work is still to be done. Activists have begun planning another May Day parade in support of migrant workers’ rights. If you are in Beirut, please show up and voice your anger over these abuses: http://www.facebook.com/events/359348297431318/

UPDATE 18/03/2012

I have asked Carlos Latuff to draw a cartoon about Alem Desisa’s story and I’m glad to report that he has accepted and will be doing so soon.

GlobalVoicesOnline.org has reported that Alem’s tragic death is sparking a new wave of Human Rights activism.

An candle vigil was planned yesterday in Ethiopia, this was the event’s description

Dear Friends,because of the absence of a Lebanese Embassy or Consulate in Addis ,the initiators of the ‘Candlelight Vigil for Alem Dechasa’ have decided to conduct the Vigil at Meskel Square. Please spread the news and be there on time so that we can remember our sister and say ‘never again’ . tomorrow Saturday March 17 @ 5:05pm. (repost from halle, pls every one in Addis join this cause and march together)

Concerned Ethiopians have also started a petition online, and here is the text:

Due to the lack of prospects of a livelihood, lack of education and wrong perceptions of overseas work, thousands of young Ethiopian women continue to go to the Middle East countries every year to work as domestic workers. These young women are full of hope of bettering their lives and the lives of their families. However, once they arrive in their destination country, the hopes of the majority are shattered by what awaits them. In most cases, their passports are confiscated from them, their salaries withheld, they’re beaten and even prone to rape. In addition to ratifying almost all of the international human rights instruments pertinent to the issue at hand, the Ethiopian government has also put some policy and legislative frameworks for protecting the rights of these women. However, enforcement of these laws are very minimal and weak. Thus, until the Ethiopian government upholds its national and international obligations, issue appropriate policies to ensure the protection of human rights as well as re-integration of these women into the society, Ethiopian migrant and trafficked women will continue to commit suicides, face abuses, and remain trapped on foreign soil.

Another petition writes:

Alem didn’t committed suicide. But she was abused & murdered. She was seeking for help but help did not arrive. Let us stop this abuse and let the killer and the abuser punished

The Ethiopian Review reports that

Concerned Ethiopians in the Washington DC Metro Area gathered in front of the Embassy of Lebanon Thursday to mourn Alem Dechasa, the Ethiopian girl who died after she was attacked and abducted outside the Ethiopian embassy in Beirut early this week. We also expressed our outrage over the killing of Alem and presented our demand to the Government of Lebanon to bring the individuals who committed the crime to justice.

During the silent protest, First Secretary of the Lebanese embassy, Mr Toni Frangie, came out to speak to us.

Ato Tekle Sahlemariam, who spoke on our behalf, expressed his gratitude to Mr Frangie for his willingness to hear our concern and communicated to him that Ethiopians are seeking justice for the crime against Alem.

Mr Frangie expressed his sadness about the death of Alem and assured us that full investigation is underway. From his demeanor, one can tell that he appeared to be genuinely moved by our grief.

All of us left the embassy feeling better because of Mr Frangie’s assurance that Alem will get justice […]

UPDATE 19/03/2012

Migrant Workers Task Force:

Migrant students demand ‘Justice for Alem’

On Sunday March 18th, after news of Alem Dechasa’s death spread, MWTF volunteers and students (migrant workers from different backgrounds) decided to do something different. So far, Lebanese activists have spoken through their blogs, locals in Ethiopia have condemned what happened, and even Ethiopians in the United States have taken a stance. Today, the migrant workers in Lebanon had a message to say, a common voice that ‘enough is enough’.

At Zico House, the class started as usual at noon and everyone got seated. We were a bit more crowded than usual. Rahel Zegeye took the microphone and addressed all the workers.

She spoke on how the workers have become less of human beings and more of assets to their own country, on how Alem got beaten up in front of her own embassy and no by-passers reacted, on how Ethiopians around the world are enraged about the incident, and called for the migrants in Lebanon to make their voices heard. She called for the embassy to close and leave the country if they cannot protect their own citizens. She condemned that migrants are still being beaten up, locked in houses, given no days off, prevented from having their own passport, denied proper healthcare, having no help from their agencies, and eventually driven to commit suicide.

Rahel said that there was a time where slavery was normal, but that time has passed and will not return. She spoke of how people are treating their dogs better than their maids, and how an animal can live a better life than a migrant worker in Lebanon. With a tear in her eye and a revolutionary energy in her voice, Rahel continued by stating: “When a Lebanese person goes to Ethiopia or any other country in that area to work, he lives like a king and is never humiliated. When we come here, we live like animals, and worse. I want us to live like kings and queens in Lebanon like the Lebanese workers do when they visit our countries.”

“The church refused to give any attention to Alem despite the big number of migrant workers attending, it’s as if nothing happened” – Tirsit, an Ethiopian worker.

The talk continued with some migrant workers joining the conversation. Tirsit, an Ethiopian domestic worker, stated that the Ethiopian government is also to blame for what is happening, and not only the Lebanese government. Another worker, Nadia, stated that she came to Lebanon to raise some money to send to her family, and to live a good life when she returns back to her home country, but she is overworked, abused, locked-in, and denied of her passport for no rational reason.

The migrants also stated that even the dead workers in Lebanon do not rest. Their bodies are only sent to their countries after lengthy delays, if they get sent in the first place. The bodies are left in their original clothes unwashed, many times they are sent together in the same coffin, as half of their money (if not more) is taken by the Ethiopian authorities and the agency that got them here.

“I just came from the church. The church always remembers the people who die and prays for them to have peace. The church refused to give any attention to Alem despite the big number of migrant workers attending, it’s as if nothing happened. They are even denying us of our God,” Tirsit added.

“All I’m asking for is my basic rights.” – Mubarak, a Sudanese student.

Mubarak,

a Sudanese migrant worker, said: “I am not living here for free. I buy food. I pay for transportation. I pay all my bills. The Lebanese government is benefiting from my stay in Lebanon, all I’m asking for is my basic rights.”

“My skin is black. I did not choose for it to be black but it is black, does it dictate who I am? When I go into a shop and I see something I like, the seller says surprisingly ‘You are black, how you want to buy this?!’, I don’t have to get clothes to wear? things to use? Am I not a normal human being?”

“If it was an American worker who is getting abused, I’m sure things would not have been the same. I urge all of you to step up for action, and I’m happy that we’re getting support from our Lebanese friends and I’m sure we can do something to stop this. I do not want to leave dirt for future generations of workers like the previous generations have left for me, and I don’t care if I have to die for this cause,” Rahel ended with a tear.

In Migrant Community Center (MCC) in Nabaa, students and teachers also discussed the death of Alem. Here are some of the students’ response:

I do not believe Alem committed suicide. Her abuser went out of jail the moment she died. I think his family ordered her murder. With her death, her case dies. If she would have survived she would have told stories that no one is willing to listen to. We need to ask for her DNA [meaning an autopsy]. I cannot imagine a beaten up girl taking her life with the strength of her own hands. She was in the hospital, she would have survived and recovered. She had enough attention not to be abused again. They needed to eliminate her in order for the abuser not to be criminalized. – Hugette, MDW from Benin

Life is already hard, I do not want it any harder. We should not be filmed not because of legal issues, but because speaking up can cost us our jobs. Madam will not be happy, nobody sides with the migrant workers, not even the agency that brought them. What happened to the Ethiopian girl, happens every day. You don’t know the conditions we live in. Some madams even make the maid a sandwich and tell her this is what you are eating for the day. Many do not have a place to sleep, they sleep in the balcony and it is cold, or in the kitchen. It is not life. I work until late at 2 and 3 in the night and I have to wake up at 6. Madams say to the girl ‘I paid a lot of money for you I did not pay it so you can sit’. They invent work for her even when everything is in order. – Evelyn,  MDW from Benin

 I knew a girl that did not want to stay, they [the employer] gave her medicine to make her go crazy. How can you eat their food if it can be poisoned? The girl said her contract is over and she wanted to change her job, but they did not want to let her go because they brought her to Lebanon. They made her crazy. Many girls go back to Madagascar and they are mentally ill, and their families ask how did this happen. No one knows. The agencies do not care. They do not want to lose the client. One time, the client brought his maid in his car-trunk and the agency sided with him even though they saw what happened to the girl. The people that work are Lebanese, they side with Lebanese. They know the girls cannot speak well when they bring them from abroad. Why do they take them? So they can beat them, they know they cannot speak and say anything.  – Lisa, MDW from Madagascar

I do not know what to think, I did not see the video. It happens so often but every time I am surprised. I am happy I live alone. I used to live with a madam and it was bad. Sometimes they tell you at home that you will work with a certain number of people, and when you come it turns out that you will finish from the house, then go to the relatives and so on. It’s like working at different jobs at once. They need to stop lying. They need to obey the contract and the conditions they describe when we agree to come. They cannot have us here and then do whatever they please. – Malala, MDW from Madagascar

Several follow up actions were discussed and migrants were asked to attend, call for their rights, and not remain silent. A video of their messages is also being edited now and will be posted within the week.

Written by Ramy Shukr with support of the whole MWTF team.

UPDATE 24/03/2012

Sari and I received an email from Eden Hagos:

Thank you for bringing attention to the issue of domestic workers. I hope you will continue to follow the stories that are coming to light.

 I just wanted to send you a link to a story about a vigil and protest that we held in Toronto earlier this week. We have also started a group on Facebook where we will continue to follow this story and all others.
In solidarity.
UPDATE 06/04/2012
Justice4Alem.org is preparing a Candlelight Vigil tomorrow in Washington DC


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12 Comments

Leave a Comment

  1. pathology report stated that she committed suicide, there was no sign of physical or sexual abuse, the police has made their investigation and murder was ruled out, these people are professonial in their duty and their finding should be binding so let her rest in peace i dont see why people are shouting murder without any prove just because they feel like,

  2. and the other issue that should be adress is that “if” she was murder i want those people out there to know that he [the murderer] does not represent the lebanese people nor the attitude of the lebanese people, he should be blame for his act and not the lebanese people in general, what is it? collective punishment?

  3. offcourse i did, but i want the anti racist movement or all those demonstrators to read the post , can you tell them to do it please?

  4. I watched the video with horror and her voice still rings in my ears and a few days later I heard that she has committed suicide and I cried, now every time I remember her, my heart still aches. ohhh how beautiful she looked.

    To those who have driven her to kill herself (if she did it that is): Just remember what goes around comes around!

    Alem may you Rest In Peace!!

    Tedros from London.

  5. Are those people doing such immoral action are from the 21st century? Or from primitive life? I am very much worried about the rest of Ethiopians in Lebanon.

  6. haram haram haram i admit i will be killing alot of Alem Desacha if i dont join in and be an activist of the rights of domestic workers.am a.house maid in lebanon and i say a big no to untimely deaths.so pls share how i can.join in this noble quest.thank u.R.I.P Alem

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