The culture of racism against black domestic help in Lebanon (and the rest of the Arab Muslim world)

A video showing a young Ethiopian maid being dragged by the hair, beaten and forced into a car by several Lebanese men in a busy Beirut street was followed by the maid committing suicide by hanging a few days later.

OBSERVERS.france24 (H/T SusanK)   The scene, captured by a cell phone camera, occurred in front of the Ethiopian consulate in Beirut. The maid, named Alem Dechasa, is lying on the ground, crying and pleading in Ethiopian: “I don’t want to go there!” An onlooker can be heard attempting to stop the man beating her: “Stop it, what’s your problem? Let her go back to the consulate.” But a few moments later, another man grabs Dechasa’s collar and drags her on the ground, then tries to force her into a car. She resists, and one of the men violently grabs her hair – at which point the video cuts. 

The main perpetrator of the violent acts in the video, identified by the licence plate of his car, is Ali Mahfouz, the owner of a maid service agency that employs many migrant workers. He claims that he had taken her to her consulate for her to be sent her back to her country, which she categorically refused.

 Ethiopian consular officials said that they found Dechasa too unstable to be sent back to Ethiopia, and had advised Mahfouz to take her to a psychiatric hospital in the city. After they left, the consular officials said they heard screams and shouts coming from the street and called the police. According to Mahfouz, he was trying to get Dechasa into a car to drive her to the airport when the police interfered and took her to the Deir al-Salib psychiatric ward.

She committed suicide there on March 14 by strangling herself with a sheet.
Ali Latifa Fakhri a member of the Lebanese Anti-Racism movement in Beirut, says, “Ali Mahfouz brought Dechasa to the consulate while she was in a crazy frenzy. He then justified himself by saying that she had tried to commit suicide several times and he had been forced to switch her to another house. But the question is obviously not whether or not the girl had mental problems. Violence like this can in no case be justified. It’s also worth asking whether Dechasa became unstable following the treatment she underwent at the hands of her employers. 

Personally, I consider businesses like Mahfouz’s little more than human trafficking. These recruiters go to Ethiopia, Sri Lanka or the Philippines to convince poor women to work in Lebanon. They promise good wages, days off, freedom of religion, etc… But once in Lebanon, they often find themselves working 18 hours a day with no rest, irregular pay, and limited freedom. Sometimes, their passport is confiscated and they can’t go anywhere without their employer’s permission. They’re worse than second-class citizens, they’re like slaves. [Every year, there are reports of several thousand maids being physically or sexually abused by their employers in Lebanon.]

“The simple fact that such blatant violence took place in front of the woman’s consulate is proof that nothing stops employers.” The system completely excludes these employees from the rights of other Lebanese workers: they have practically no legal protection.