A Daily news digest by Jasper van Santen

When suicide is the only escape – Al Jazeera English

In News on April 8, 2012 at 09:13

 

When suicide is the only escape 

For Alem Dechesa, death was the only way out. For thousands of voiceless Ethiopian domestic workers working in Lebanon, suicide is the only avenue for escaping a nihilistic existence.

Dechesa took her life on March 14, after experiencing severe beatings, mental abuse and potentially more, from her employer. A video, showing Ali Mahfouz brutally beating Dechesa in front of the Ethiopian Consulate in Beirut, went viral after she took her life.  The video, viewed by millions around the world and propelling the story into the global news spotlight, uncovered the dehumanisation and brutality endured by Ethiopian domestic workers in Lebanon.

Poverty, lack of viable employment alternatives and desperation, give fertile ground for traffickers to exploit despondent Ethiopian women. Once the birthplace of mankind, Ethiopia today serves as a cradle for traffickers pursuing profit and Lebanese nationals, seeking cheap labour – a virtual one-stop shop for inexpensive and convenient servitude.

An unsavoury blend of Lebanese ethnocentrism, racial animus toward Africans, human trafficking and the debt bondage of maids upon arrival from Ethiopia, make up a recipe for contemporary enslavement. While the images of silent and submissive African maids trapped inside cosmopolitan Beirut apartments, condos and villas seemed juxtaposed at first, the modern portrait of Middle Eastern slavery – I gradually discovered through on-the-ground research, interviewing nearly 50 maids, and an examination of Lebanese labour laws and observance of human rights – was a common picture and practice.

 

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