News/ Middle East: Ethiopian maids 'abused in Middle East'

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Subject: News/ Middle East: Ethiopian maids 'abused in Middle East'
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Tue Oct 12 1999 - 08:06:57 EDT


Ethiopian maids 'abused in Middle East'
BBC News, October 8, 1999

Thousands of young Ethiopian women are being enticed to the Middle East
with the promise of work - only to suffer verbal, physical and sexual
abuse. Now the Ethiopian government wants to take action as Nita Bhalla
reports from Addis Ababa.

Yemisrach was 23 when she went to Beirut in 1996.

She worked there for three years, seven days a week from 5am to 10pm. She
was locked in the house at all times and never given any freedom.

Yemisrach says she suffered 'mental torture' and even though she is now
safely back home in Ethiopia, she still finds it difficult to leave the house.

Other horror stories have also been emerging about girls who have been
raped and sexually abused, although many are reluctant to talk about it
owing to cultural taboos.

The Ethiopian government has acknowledged that thousands of young Ethiopian
women working in the Middle East are being abused by their employers.

With unemployment at an all-time high in Ethiopia, many go to Saudi Arabia,
Lebanon, Bahrain or The Emirates to look for work as housemaids.

Back-breaking jobs

There are currently an estimated 15,000 Ethiopian girls working as maids in
Beirut alone.

But government officials have only recently confirmed that most girls are
employed in back-breaking jobs for up to 18 hours a day.

Aysanew Kassa, of the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association - set up to
promote the legal, social and political status of Ethiopian women - says he
has personally dealt with more than 40 cases of girls abused by employers
in the Middle East.

" The girls are very relunctant to talk about sexual slavery and we cannot
provide hard facts - only that we know that it happens," he says.

"The abuse in the Middle East goes beyond just physical, we know that often
girls have to perform sexual favours. But unfortunately for us, to talk
about sex and sexuality in Ethiopia is taboo and to get the hard facts from
girls is very difficult."

Among his cases, there have been girls who have returned partially
paralysed, insane, with broken backs and legs and girls who have been
burned with acid.

He says some never come back and their families have no way of finding them.

Their employers only allow them to return home when their contract ends or
when they fail to give any service due to sickness or disability.

Government taking steps

Despite a massive awareness campaign by the Ethiopian media last year, the
numbers flocking to the Middle East are still huge.

In the last three months, more than 1,920 girls have gone to work in Beirut
alone and it is estimated that hundreds more go every week.

The Ethiopian government says it is doing what it can to protect and advise
these girls.

Tilahun Gizaw, Middle East Officer at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, says
the highest number of complaints comes from Lebanon.

He confirmed that the government is looking at establishing an embassy
there, to represent the interests of thousands of Ethiopians.

He also said a committee, made up of members from the Ministry of
Immigration, Labour and Social Affairs, and Foreign Affairs has been set up
to work with the Lebanese and support these girls.

"Because we don't have an embassy in Beirut, an official from our Cairo
embassy goes there every three months to talk to the girls and speak to
their employers," he says.

But many believe the issue needs to be tackled in Ethiopia too.

Clampdown on agencies

Most of the girls are offered these jobs by organisations which set
themselves up as travel agencies in Ethiopia.

They entice the girls, promising them a better life in the Arab states with
high salaries and good conditions.

The agencies take up to 7,000 birr - $875 - from each girl without
providing receipts or contracts.

The Ethiopian government says it has issued a proclamation to control the
activities of these agencies and that in order to export labour to the
Middle East, agencies must have a permit from the Ministry of Labour and
Social Affairs.

However, the cost of a permit is $30,000 - a large amount that forces the
agencies to work underground.

Over the past two weeks, one of the independent papers in Ethiopia, The
Reporter, has again highlighted the dangers faced by girls working in the
Middle East.

In the last three editions, the paper focused on placing more pressure on
the government to take responsibility.

It, however, remains to be seen just how serious the government is in
tackling this issue.
BBC News, October 8, 1999

Thousands of young Ethiopian women are being enticed to the Middle East
with the promise of work - only to suffer verbal, physical and sexual
abuse. Now the Ethiopian government wants to take action as Nita Bhalla
reports from Addis Ababa.

Yemisrach was 23 when she went to Beirut in 1996.

She worked there for three years, seven days a week from 5am to 10pm. She
was locked in the house at all times and never given any freedom.

Yemisrach says she suffered 'mental torture' and even though she is now
safely back home in Ethiopia, she still finds it difficult to leave the house.

Other horror stories have also been emerging about girls who have been
raped and sexually abused, although many are reluctant to talk about it
owing to cultural taboos.

The Ethiopian government has acknowledged that thousands of young Ethiopian
women working in the Middle East are being abused by their employers.

With unemployment at an all-time high in Ethiopia, many go to Saudi Arabia,
Lebanon, Bahrain or The Emirates to look for work as housemaids.

Back-breaking jobs

There are currently an estimated 15,000 Ethiopian girls working as maids in
Beirut alone.

But government officials have only recently confirmed that most girls are
employed in back-breaking jobs for up to 18 hours a day.

Aysanew Kassa, of the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association - set up to
promote the legal, social and political status of Ethiopian women - says he
has personally dealt with more than 40 cases of girls abused by employers
in the Middle East.

" The girls are very relunctant to talk about sexual slavery and we cannot
provide hard facts - only that we know that it happens," he says.

"The abuse in the Middle East goes beyond just physical, we know that often
girls have to perform sexual favours. But unfortunately for us, to talk
about sex and sexuality in Ethiopia is taboo and to get the hard facts from
girls is very difficult."

Among his cases, there have been girls who have returned partially
paralysed, insane, with broken backs and legs and girls who have been
burned with acid.

He says some never come back and their families have no way of finding them.

Their employers only allow them to return home when their contract ends or
when they fail to give any service due to sickness or disability.

Government taking steps

Despite a massive awareness campaign by the Ethiopian media last year, the
numbers flocking to the Middle East are still huge.

In the last three months, more than 1,920 girls have gone to work in Beirut
alone and it is estimated that hundreds more go every week.

The Ethiopian government says it is doing what it can to protect and advise
these girls.

Tilahun Gizaw, Middle East Officer at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, says
the highest number of complaints comes from Lebanon.

He confirmed that the government is looking at establishing an embassy
there, to represent the interests of thousands of Ethiopians.

He also said a committee, made up of members from the Ministry of
Immigration, Labour and Social Affairs, and Foreign Affairs has been set up
to work with the Lebanese and support these girls.

"Because we don't have an embassy in Beirut, an official from our Cairo
embassy goes there every three months to talk to the girls and speak to
their employers," he says.

But many believe the issue needs to be tackled in Ethiopia too.

Clampdown on agencies

Most of the girls are offered these jobs by organisations which set
themselves up as travel agencies in Ethiopia.

They entice the girls, promising them a better life in the Arab states with
high salaries and good conditions.

The agencies take up to 7,000 birr - $875 - from each girl without
providing receipts or contracts.

The Ethiopian government says it has issued a proclamation to control the
activities of these agencies and that in order to export labour to the
Middle East, agencies must have a permit from the Ministry of Labour and
Social Affairs.

However, the cost of a permit is $30,000 - a large amount that forces the
agencies to work underground.

Over the past two weeks, one of the independent papers in Ethiopia, The
Reporter, has again highlighted the dangers faced by girls working in the
Middle East.

In the last three editions, the paper focused on placing more pressure on
the government to take responsibility.

It, however, remains to be seen just how serious the government is in
tackling this issue.

Melanie Orhant
morhant@igc.org
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