An Ethiopian maid working in Lebanon killed herself Wednesday morning after a video of her violent abduction sparked outrage across the globe.
Foreign domestic workers in Lebanon and across the Arab world face extreme racism and abuse. But in Alem Dechasa's tragic case, her brutal treatment was caught on camera.
Manhandled, dragged by her hair, and forced into a waiting BMW: this blood-boiling video shows the 33-year-old Ethiopian worker being battered and abducted by her employers outside her country's consulate. A bystander managed to film the scene on a phone, but none of the onlookers answered the desperate woman's cries for help.
In the five days between the video's release and Dechasa's suicide, the video was viewed 77,000 times:
The film has triggered horror and rage in Ethiopia, and across the world. Take a look at the video's YouTube comments section for an idea of how raw the response has been.
A culture of abuse
Sadly attacks like this are not uncommon – nor are migrant worker suicides. Across the Arab world foreign maids are subject to life-threatening mistreatment on a regular basis. In Lebanon alone there are 200,000 migrant domestic workers, mostly from Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Ethiopia. Many of these maids face a wide range of abuses – from confiscated passports and confinement to physical and sexual harassment.
When Human Rights Watch investigated 114 cases of documented abuse in Lebanon, it found a legal system that failed to punish exploitative and violent employers. Not once were employers charged for withholding wages, locking maids in rooms or confiscating passports.
Foreign domestic workers also face a culture of overt racism. In many of Lebanon's premier beach and swimming clubs they are not allowed to enter the pools (even when the children they watch go for a swim). A posh beach club on the country's coast openly advertises on its website: "Maids are not allowed to go into the swimming pools."
This culture of abuse and bigotry takes its toll. During a single month in the summer of 2010, nine foreign maids committed suicide in Lebanon. We can now add Alem Dechasa's name to that list. Political tumult in the region is no excuse for denying basic human rights to these suffering workers.
Take action: As spring approaches, Lebanon is preparing for its vital summer tourist season. Tell Lebanon's Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud that we will not visit his country – let alone swim in its segregated pools – until all its inhabitants are afforded basic human rights.