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THE STORY

Ruth Odima, a Kenyan woman, contacted This Is Lebanon on 8 September 2018 because her employers, Bilal Bou Khaled and Meriam Kassem, allegedly hadn’t paid her since July 2017 and they had let her papers expire in 2017. This meant that she was working illegally, and could potentially have been arrested at any time. During her time working for Bilal and Meriam, Ruth alleges that she had no days off; her passport was confiscated (this is an illegal practice); she had no personal space; she was physically abused and sexually harassed; and she wasn’t paid her salary.

Bilal kept telling her he had purchased her a ticket to go home, but when This Is Lebanon rang the travel agent to check, she said they were only bookings, and nothing had ever been paid for. Bilal had told Ruth to accept half of the $4000 she was owed and he would send the rest when she got home.

This Is Lebanon contacted Bilal to give him a chance to respond to the allegations. He was initially cooperative and made excuses about why Ruth hadn’t traveled, but as time passed and he hadn’t sent her home, he became less co-operative and more aggressive.

“The paper [Ruth’s documents] has been difficult to take it and to fix it up.” – Bilal

“I will pay for her when she goes. But don’t worry, she’s good.” and Bilal reassures us that he now has a new maid to abuse and harass: “and I have a maid, an extra maid, who work now in my apartment.”

Ruth contacted Meriam Kassem multiple times to try and get her money once she was home. She promised to remit the money gradually every week. This was her response:

Ruth says she was sexually harassed by Meriam’s father, treated like an animal, and sent home without $1,500 of her salary. The Filipino who worked for them before Ruth allegedly ran away. Now there is a new Ethiopian worker, and she has no access to a phone. What will happen to her? Will Ruth ever get her salary? She has appointed a lawyer in Lebanon but the judicial system is slow and seldom gives justice to domestic workers. Watch this space.

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THE STORY

Selina Opuku left Ghana in 2016 for Lebanon to work for Rashed Ghandour and Lena Aad. Her family didn’t hear from her for almost two years. Selina says she was not paid at all during this time, and she was not allowed any contact with her family. She alleges that before she left, Lena Aad publicly humiliated her by stripping her on the street. To date, Selina has not been paid. 

On 30 September 2018, Selina’s brother Stephen Opuku contacted This Is Lebanon from Ghana about his sister, who had been employed two years. Stephen wrote: “Please, I have my sister in Lebanon and she is undergoing slavery and abuse. She want to come back to Ghana. Ever since she left she have not receive anything [any payment]. Her phone has been seized and the passport also. We can’t talk to her nor the madam cause the madam has BLOCKED me from talking to her directly.”

Rashed Ghandour, who worked in Ghana, sent Selina to work for his (now ex-) wife Lena Aad. According to Selina, her employers didn’t pay her for two years. The audio posted below is a conversation between This Is Lebanon and Lena Aad. We asked to speak to Selina on Lena’s phone, but she declined, saying she’s “always busy at work,” and that when she allows Selina to use the phone she “always makes trouble.”

Lena said to wait for Selina in Ghana, and that she would send her within two months once her “other girl” (employee) had arrived. Lena told This Is Lebanon that “under the rules in Lebanon, no one can force me to to buy her a phone or let her contact her family,” and that she only has the “right to contact her family once every six months.” Lena alleged that Selina was making trouble and that her family were repeatedly asking her for money which she didn’t want to send them.

“Under the rules in Lebanon, no one can force me to to buy her a phone or let her contact her family,” – Lena

After This Is Lebanon sent Rashed and Lena the audio recording, the employers sent Selina back to Ghana. But before Selina was sent back, she alleges that Lena stripped her on the street in front of her husband, while he stood on and watched. Lena allegedly told Selina that her clothes didn’t belong to her as she had bought them for her.

This Is Lebanon sent that video to Lena and Rashed Aad on WhatsApp. We asked them to pay Selina her two years salary and send her home. Lena blocked us:

Rashed replied saying his ex-wife was a ‘narcissist’ and he would get Selina away from her. This he did. However, he sent her home without any payment for her 2 years of forced labour. We had a long conversation with Rashed and he made many promises to pay her but never delivered on those promises. In the end, we gave up on him and posted. Part of the conversation with him is pictured in the screenshot.

Selina now has a lawyer and her case will go to the courts. It will probably take a long time. Will she eventually get justice? Watch this space.

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THE STORY

Glencia (also known as Auntie Ellen), was a Filipino woman who worked for Najla Saad for 18 years starting from 2001. Her salary was $250 per month.

Glencia worked for Najla Saad for 18 years. She was undocumented for 13 of those years. She returned home to the Philippines in a coffin.

Najla’s husband was Mustafa Saad, a well-known political figure in Sidon who had lost his own sight as a result of being attacked during the civil war. He died in 2002. Najla and her husband helped establish a national eye bank, which provides free cornea transplant operations. Najla is well known for her philanthropy, though in this case it seems her charity didn’t extend to her longstanding employee.

In late November 2018, Glencia became ill, and was taken to the public hospital, where she stayed for three nights. Three weeks later her symptoms returned.

Glencia was diagnosed as having had a stroke. The hospital discharged her, but she was seriously ill. She subsequently lost control of her bowels, her speech, and her ability to walk.

Glencia had a daughter who also works in Sidon, but throughout this period, Najla allegedly refused to let her daughter visit her very ill mother. 

Glencia’s daughter took her to Labib Private Hospital, but the hospital allegedly wouldn’t admit her because Najla refused to pay. The daughter then took her back to the public hospital.

After her release from the hospital, Najla reportedly tried to use her connections to get her employee back to the Philippines, but Glencia was refused permission to travel and she was returned to Najla’s house. 

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Glencia passed away at 6.30am on 8 January, 2019, after her employer of 18 years allegedly refused to pay her medical bills.

Her body was repatriated on 19 January. Her daughters declined to make a video because they are afraid – they are still working in Lebanon.

Maybe if Najla had renewed Glencia’s working documents, she would have had access to better medical treatment and would not have passed away as a result.

She might have been able to travel back to the Philippines. If Glencia’s daughters worked in a country where domestic workers were covered by the labour laws, they would be able to bring a legal case against Najla. But this is Lebanon.

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We are a very low-budget Canadian nonprofit. We depend on all our donors to fight for these women, donations big and small. You can make a difference. Will you consider donating help us continue this vital work?