Tags Posts tagged with "abuse"



When I exited the plane in Beirut last night, I noticed an Ethiopia Airlines plane parked next to ours and thought little of it. But as we walked through the skywalk and then into a long corridor, this sight confronted all arriving passengers:

Hundreds of young Ethiopian women waiting to be picked up by their “sponsors.”

This is the face of the kafala or sponsorship system.

In Lebanon and in several countries across the Middle East, the kafala system means women seeking jobs as domestic workers are treated not as individuals but as merchandise.

The young women’s lives are literally signed over to a person who has paid for their trip and contract fees and then takes legal guardianship over them. Basically governments in the region have relegated state control over migrant workers to their employers, who will be fully responsible for all their activities while in the country. So instead of treating the workers as any other tourists, students (or white folks in general) who visit or work in an Arab country–and are held personally responsible for their own actions– these women migrants are “adopted” by families or businesses who assume legal guardianship.

As one can imagine, this system leads to grave abuse and some have likened it to a form of modern day slavery. There are regular stories about sexually or physically abused girls and suicides are common. With no interference from the government, some families choose to lock domestic workers up at home in order avoid being held responsible for their activities outside the home. And yes in many cases, the women choose to flee to work illegally or independently, which is naturally a better deal for them and provides more money to send home to their families.

On the other hand, the workers desperately need jobs and many live in decent homes and become part of their adopted families. Many even come back to Lebanon after their contract ends and often sign new contracts to work for other employers or stay with the same family for years at a time.

But human rights cannot rely on the goodness of random individuals. The workers should be treated as human beings under the law, as normal adults and not adopted children. They should have the right to break contracts, change employers, be provided a safe working environment and have the option to leave at time. While some governments offer these rights on paper, little is done to enforce them and many women may find themselves trapped in the system.

Bahrain has recently taken steps to reform its kafala system, providing workers more freedoms, but gaps still exist in ensuring workers’ rights. It is high time that Lebanon also follow this trend of reform and give the worker’s basic human rights and also ensure they are being met by adequate policing and inspections. Having these workers line up on the floor is reminiscent of images of worker’s piled into slave ships. They are not chained up and have willing come in search of paid work. But they are still being treated as merchandise, tossed anywhere, not even offered a chair to sit in.

Lebanese should know better. They have faced a history of discrimination in foreign countries, along with other Arabs and Muslims. Just on our flight over from Frankfurt, we Lebanese were forced to stand or sit on the floor until our gate opened. This was unlike every other flight I witnessed, where passengers could sit comfortably until the gate was opened. But the Lebanese passengers had to be screened additionally and sealed off from the rest of the passengers in the terminal, as if they were somehow diseased and needed to be quarantined.

Having experienced abuse as foreign travelers and workers ourselves, we should be setting an example for how migrants should be treated, not repeating the same abuses and even much worse ones.

You can read more about the archaic kafala system here at migrant-rights.org and the efforts underway in some places to reform it.




Text above reads roughly: “What are you waiting for? 0 percent downpayment. Now you can be independent”

It’s hard to believe this is real, but a Lebanese real estate company “I Group” is actually marketing itself by using images of abused women and encouraging them to buy their luxury apartments to escape criminal spouses.

Their English Facebook ad is more explicit:

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Of course most new apartments in Beirut costs hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars, so we are not sure how most single persons (or almost any human person) living in Lebanon can afford them.

Commentators were furious:

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To some pretty odd answers from the marketing team…

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Others pointed out that the apartment would take years to build and could hardly be considered a viable solution for immediate abuse:

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But the company Facebook team stubbornly held on:
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Some resorted to sarcasm like one guy who asked in Arabic: “If I beat my wife but not on the face does she still qualify for the offer or should I beat her on the face? And what if she beats me, do I qualify for the offer or is it just for ladies?”

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Others just didn’t hold back:

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We’ve seen terrible and sexist real estate ads before, such as the use of scantily-clad models and dismembered bodies for retail companies.

One company “Trillium Development” famously put out an ad that read “A real man buys her a (multimillion) apartment” That ad got some bad press and is now hard to find. But the company still has a previous ad up on its Facebook page with a similar message:



Source: Blog Baladi

Will this time be any different? Will I Group come to its senses?

Of course it is not just real estate. We need to have a serious discussion in Lebanon on the portrayal of women in billboards, which are ubiquitous across the country. In fact the representation of females by ad agencies and corporations is pretty dehumanizing overall in Lebanon and largely free from any critical thinking disucssions. I’ve pointed this out in the past, noting that this kind of imagery is not just disturbing to look at; it also has far reaching social and developmental effects.


Thanks to Helene for spotting this.

UPDATE: 10/12/2015

I Group has removed the photo but stopped short of an apology, claiming in a new post that readers misunderstood the campaign and that it had nothing to do with profitability. 



Once again, winter is approaching and Lebanon not only faces the environmental disaster of garbage soaking into the groundwater, but yet another harsh season for hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees living in tents with no floors or walls to keep the floods and snowstorms out.

It has been almost two years since I last reported from the Bekaa valley camps of Jeb Janine and sadly little has improved for their downtrodden residents since then. A few weeks ago, before the heavy downpour of last night, I traveled back to the camp with a group of journalists.

Here are some of the stories we heard.

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Fawza al Hassan, pictured above with her two little daughters, showed us the bloated stomach and eye problems the 7-year-old girls face. Fawza says she hasn’t been able to get them medical care and cannot even secure her own tent or steady source of food. She relies on the generosity of neighbors for shelter and a bit of rice.

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Thuraya Ahmed Hamoud from Aleppo (above) says she has not received any aid from the UN for over six months. Her husband cannot help because has been jailed for a year now for not renewing his visa. He avoided renewing it out of fear that authorities would deport him, she says. In addition to the baby on the floor behind her, Thuraya has eight other children to feed, ranging from six months to 16 years old. “I don’t want anything, just food for my children,” she says. Like Fawza, Thuraya is also relying on handouts from impoverished neighbors. “We mainly eat potatoes, sometimes we rice,” she explains. “We have not eaten meat for a year. We have no clothes for winter.”


Hassan–I won’t include his last name for fear of reprisals– told my colleague Ahmed Shihab-ElDin (below) that he tried to work in sorting garbage from the nearby town of Jeb Janine for recylcing but town authorities stopped the operation due to “lack of having a permit.” (Amazing considering how desperately recycling is needed in the Bekaa and across Lebanon). Thus with little employment for the men, he said the women of the camp are often bread-winners,  picking onions in nearby farms from 3AM to 4PM for just four dollars per day.


Adding insult to abject poverty, Lebanese army soldiers often raid and harass camp residents by barging through doors in the middle of the night demanding to see IDs, Hassan says. He says troops even broke into his bedroom while he was sleeping next to his wife. But despite all this, Hassan was happy to share stories with us and offered cigarettes and tea.

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The claims of abuse I heard are similar to accounts documented in a recent Vice piece by fellow journalist Sulome Anderson, who wrote of Lebanese police destroying shacks in a camp. (See the link for a video). These claims are heard often and we know that there has been attacks on refugees in the past, from assualts to burning of camps. Is the Lebanese judiciary even interested in investigating these cases? What rights do the refugees have under Lebanese law and would they even feel confident voicing harassment they face?

Following her piece Sulome started a crowd-funding campaign to help rehouse some of the refugees. You can read more about it and contribute here. But hurry, there are only a few days left.

I think it’s great to see an increasing number of journalists going beyond simply reporting on tragedy to actually trying to help those whose stories we tell by providing mechanisms of material support. In fact a lot of refugees are sick of talking to journalists because they don’t see news articles improving their lives.

Other examples include Inara, an NGO that helps injured children in war zones, founded by CNN reporter Arwa Damon. Two of my other colleagues, Brooke Anderson and Venetia Rainey, also started a crowd-funding campaign to help support a Syrian refugee school they had reported on.

Finally my colleague Jenny Gustafsson has compiled a list of organizations you can also donate to. If you can spare a few dollars, that money could go a long way to supporting those who are so desperately in need, especially as temperatures drop.

I’ll leave you with some more pictures I took at the camp. You can imagine how little cold these structures keep out. Remember this is just one of hundreds  of camps scattered across the country.


Across Jeb Janine, babies lie on dirt or thin concrete floors. How will they cope in winter?



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Ahmed and some of our other colleagues played music for the children before we left. They were so overjoyed at just a few minutes of attention.

That’s Riad Kobessi, an investigative journalist and one of three Al Jadeed TV crew members who were savagely beaten by Lebanese Customs security today.
A large crowd had gathered outside the Justice Palace this afternoon where all four were held and interrogated until being released around 9PM tonight. As you can see in the photo above, Kobessi has a large scare on his face following the beating he endured hours earlier. I took this shot moments after his release when he was quickly ushered into one of the Al Jadeed vehicles standing by.
I’ll have more on this tomorrow, but for now you can check my twitter feed for videos and pictures of the beating and the rally that pressured their release. Kobessi and his crew paid a price, but it was a victory for all journalists in Lebanon tonight, even those who might not have appreciated it.
UPDATE: Nov. 28
Lebanon’s internet is so slow that I couldn’t upload these videos last night. So here’s a taste of what it was like in the crowd. Moments before the journalists are released, supporters chant, “Freedom! Freedom”

Here is a shot from inside the crowd, showing both young men and women shouting in support:

Finally the moment of truth, as the gates are opened and the journalists released: