Migrant students demand ‘Justice for Alem Dechasa’

March 21, 2012 (Migrant Workers Task Force) –  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.

"All I'm asking for is my basic rights." - Mubarak, a Sudanese student.

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.

Migrant Workers Task Force