Ethiopians in Lebanon protest their consulate’s apathy, callousness

Ethiopian demonstrators wave their country's flag as they chant slogans outside their consulate in Badaro bemoaning its neglect of Ethiopians in Lebanon, April 1, 2012. (Justin Salhani/The Daily Star)

April 2, 2012, BEIRUT (Daily Star) : A crowd of Ethiopians gathered outside the Ethiopian Consulate in  Badaro Sunday afternoon to protest its neglect of their community in  Lebanon.

Following a Sunday church service nearby, a few dozen women and one man  walked to the consulate and demonstrated outside.

The assembled expressed their frustration with consular officials’ perceived  callousness, saying that when Ethiopians contact their consulate in Lebanon via  telephone they are often ignored or hung up on.

“We are living here,” said a woman named Berti, adding that “the [consulate]  should help us, but they only want money.”

Another woman, named Sarah, told The Daily Star that many Ethiopians travel  to Lebanon illegally through Sudan. She said that if such an Ethiopian  encounters trouble in Lebanon, the consulate will absolve itself of  responsibility and refuse assistance, but if the same person should want to  renew her passport, the consulate would help in the interest of making a  profit.

The Ethiopian Consulate was unavailable for comment.

Another driving point of the protest was the consulate’s recent mishandling  of the situation involving Alem Dechasa-Desisa, an Ethiopian domestic worker who  was videotaped outside the building being physically abused by a man later  identified as Ali Mahfouz. Dechasa-Desisa was later taken to Deir al-Salib where  doctors said she hanged herself on March 14, using strips of her bed sheets.

“Nobody helped her,” said another woman named Sarah, who wore a blue  keffiyeh: “How did she die? She didn’t kill herself. She’s not crazy.”

She added that the group was angry that officials at the consulate saw  Dechasa-Desisa being beaten, thrown on the ground and forced into Mahfouz’s  care, but failed to take action, instead remaining inside the consulate walls  and watching the abuse.

Several protesters told The Daily Star that their group would have been  larger had it not been for the consulate trying to prevent the  demonstration.

“At church, the [consulate's] workers told us not to come here and said they  called the police,” said Sarah with the blue keffiyeh, “but the police are here  and they are keeping the peace. They aren’t harming us.”

“We have no problem with the Lebanese government,” added another protestor  named Lina. “We like them, but we have a problem with the consulate.”

“We don’t have an embassy here,” said Sarah in the blue keffiyeh, “we only  have our community.”

The group chanted slogans expressing their disdain for the consulate and  their suspicion that it wanted Ethiopians out of the country.

The chants were followed by a short prayer before the group dispersed. A few  people from the group expressed dismay that even though Sunday is their day off,  their employers only give them a few hours in the morning before they must  return to work.

A woman named Makdees said, “I come [to protest], I pray, now back to  work.”

Before leaving the scene she added, “Please, from every country to Lebanon,  help us.”

–Daily Star