There are an estimated 10,000 people living in conditions of modern slavery in Lebanon (GSI 2018). It is a destination for Asian and African women trafficked for the purpose of domestic servitude, and for women from Easter Europe for commercial sexual exploitation. There are estimated 200,000 migrant domestic workers in Lebanon and until 2012, Lebanon was the top country of destination for female migrant workers from Nepal. Women who travel to Lebanon legally to work as household servants often find themselves in conditions of forced labour through the withholding of passports, non-payment of wages, restrictions on movement, threat and physical of sexual assault.
A Togolese former domestic worker. She received support from Caritas, which is a confederation of 165 member organizations that serve the world’s poor, vulnerable, dispossessed and marginalized. Since 1994, Caritas Lebanon has responded to the legal, social and humanitarian needs of migrant domestic workers and refugees. To date, they have provided vital support to more than 1,540,000 migrant beneficiaries.
I regret leaving Togo, I regret quitting my job in the factory, and I deeply regret leaving my kids. But I thought I was helping my children and I thought that I was giving them a chance at a better future. The job in Lebanon promised an extra 40 USD a month. That money could have done so much good for my family, but it was all lies.
I arrived in Beirut and the agency placed me in a wealthy family that lived in the suburbs. They had many beautiful things. I worked there for ten months, day and night without a break and without a single day off.
I was allowed to eat twice a day, for only two minutes at 2 pm or 10 pm. Madam stood there and timed me with her phone, and then the alarm would go off. I was only given a piece of bread, and Madam would never hand it to me, she would toss it on the ground. If I hadn’t finished my bread when the two minutes were up, Madam would snatch it away and throw it in the bin. She never gave me water, so I would hide and drink water from the bathroom.
Once, she locked me in a room for three days with nothing to eat or drink. I was so desperate that I drank my own urine. Everyday Madam would beat me for no reason with a shoe, a stick or a belt. Today, I still get pains in my ears from where she hit me. I wanted to leave but I was always being monitored and they were always locking me in, plus they hadn’t yet paid me. One day I asked to leave but Madam told me that they had spent lots of money to have me there so I had to stay without any salary for 15 months.
I thought that it couldn’t get any worse, but it did.
One day, after 10 months of working for them, I woke up in the hospital with stitches on my stomach. The stitches were very neat, a straight line directly up the centre of my stomach. I didn’t know what had happened, and nobody would tell me. Finally, Madam told me that I had fallen from the window. But it didn’t make sense, I couldn’t remember being near the window. They refused to give me any more answers. After two days in the hospital, Madam’s father came to get me, I was still bleeding and weak but he took me to his house and locked me in a room with no windows. I spent 8 days locked in that dark room. One day Madam opened the door and said: “You’re going home now”.
They left me at the airport, with a ticket, my suitcase, and 2 months’ salary, instead of the 10 months’ salary that I was owed. I was so weak that I could hardly stand, but I was finally away from Madam and the others. I slowly dragged my bag into the airport, every step felt like a mile. Then I got to the General Security, they examined my passport then looked at me suspiciously. I was 72 kg when I came to Lebanon, I was 32 kg when the nightmare ended.
The General Security noticed how ill and weak I looked and refused to let me travel, instead calling my employer who reluctantly dropped me at the recruitment agency that had first placed me in the family. I remember how horrified the agent looked at the sight of me. I told them everything that had happened and they sent me directly to the hospital. Then they called Caritas, after a week in the hospital, I went to the Caritas shelter.
At the shelter, the other girls were scared of me because I was so skinny, but Caritas helped me to recover. They gave me back my life. They gave me a lawyer who together with General Security, fought for me to get compensation and I was awarded 6000 USD. In the shelter, I even learnt how to make greeting cards which I want to make into my own little business in Togo. Soon I’ll be back in Togo, I’ve been dreaming about my home and my family. When I’m back in Togo, I want to go on the radio and to tell my story, people need to know, they need to know what is happening here.
Courtesy of Caritas and the ILO’s 50 for Freedom campaign