ASIA/LEBANON - Ethiopian domestic workers, victims of Covid-19 and the economic crisis

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Beirut (Agenzia Fides) - They are women who have lost everything: home, work, salary. Not knowing where to go, they camped in front of their consulate in Beirut, Lebanon. Ethiopian domestic workers are victims of the coronavirus and the economic crisis. They arrived in the Country to find a job and now they find themselves with nothing in hand: they were fired, but they cannot go home because the airport in Beirut is closed and the paperwork for the return is long and complex.
There is no protection for these immigrant workers. Most employers employ them through the "kafala" system. The system requires all unskilled laborers to have an in-country sponsor, usually their employer, who is responsible for their visa and legal status. This practice has been criticised by human rights organizations for creating easy opportunities for the exploitation of workers, as many employers take away passports and abuse their workers with little chance of legal repercussions.
The living condition of the 200,000 foreign domestic workers (the majority are Ethiopians) is very difficult. Among them, the rate of suicides, sexual abuse, physical and verbal violence, food deprivation and medical care is very high. Caritas Lebanon and CELIM, a secular Italian NGO of Christian inspiration, have created a path that includes the reception of Ethiopian women in protected refuges and promotes the return and reintegration, through work, in Ethiopia.
«Covid-19 - explains Antonio Buzzelli of CELIM to Fides - has worsened an already delicate situation. The families, caught in the grip of the crisis imposed by the coronavirus and of the economic crisis already under way before the pandemic, have fired many domestic workers. These have found themselves without anything». Thus, many of them have sought refuge in front of the Ethiopian consulate. Addis Ababa diplomats accommodated about eighty of them within the diplomatic office. Caritas Lebanon - concludes Buzzelli - has undertaken to transfer some of them to the shelters it manages. «The time to return home will still be long. Covid-19 has slowed everything down. The airport in Beirut is closed and procedures to return are particularly complex. The assistance of Ethiopian diplomats is important, but we are trying to offer support by welcoming girls to more welcoming places with better services. We are trying to stay by their side and, as soon as possible, we will organize return flights to Ethiopia». (EC) (Agenzia Fides, 27/6/2020)