Ethiopian women: trafficked and trapped in Lebanon

You have to search hard and then read between the lines to find anything about the tens of thousands of African women - mostly Ethiopian - currently trapped in Lebanon in the midst of the humanitarian disaster caused by Israel's overwhelming and prolonged military assault. Just to interject a piece of traditional wisdom about this deadly turn in the "Mideast (read Palestinian) conflict": Two wrongs don't make a right. What I find just as sad as whole-scale cross-border fighting is that even before these missile and rocket attacks began these women already were trapped in a largely ignored humanitarian disaster - in Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East. What other African countries likely have citizens trapped in Lebanon's man-made tragedy? Somalia, Burundi, and probably even Nigeria. On Wed., 19 July from relative safety in a Beirut underground parking garage, BBC News showed the unidentified face of a lone displaced Ethiopian woman. She appeared to be 40ish and seemed to be wearing a blue maid's uniform. Obviously distressed, she stood against a cement pillar, covering her mouth with her hand. In that moment my impression was she seemed alone, even among the people - mostly Lebanese - also sheltering there and milling around her.

It was a few years ago while living in Nairobi, in east Africa, that I first learned that Ethiopian women were being trafficked to Lebanon, including for prostitution.

Blogher's own JaninSanFran's Happening Here blog has an entry on foreign workers trapped in Lebanon - "Foreign nationals under the Israeli gun". Jan's post includes the BBC's own chart showing numbers of other countries' nationals in Lebanon (attached below). Five of the six countries have populations traditionally, and not always accurately, identified as white or only slightly more vaguely "European". The same groups are euphemistically referred to as "westerners". The sole exception on the BBC list is the Philippines.

In spite of the obvious geography of the current crisis - i.e., the so-called Middle East adjoins Africa - for some reason there is far more awareness of the thousands of "guest workers" in Lebanon from Asia - Sri Lanka and Philippines in particular - yet next to nothing on persons from countries virtually next door to the west and south of Egypt. That would be Africa. In the midst of shelling and lack of electricity, food and water, and uneven evacuations by other countries of their nationals, virtually all these Africans and Asians remain stranded: unaided or somehow 'beyond the reach' of assistance by their own governments (or in Somalia's case transitional, interim government ).

Ethiopian writer Bathseba Belai corroborates the broader issues of trafficking as she writes about the "forgotten diaspora" of Ethiopian women labour migrants in the Middle East.

According to the U.S. State Department's 2005 Lebanon human rights report, from July 2004 the Lebanese government quit issuing visas to Ethiopian migrant workers. "... the SG [Lebanese police known as the "surete general"] stopped issuing visas to migrant workers from Ethiopia because Ethiopian authorities could not guarantee that adequate safeguards against fraud in the recruitment of these women for work in Lebanon were being taken."

State Department's Ethiopia human rights report for the same year goes into detail:

"... Young Ethiopian women were trafficked to Djibouti and the Middle East, particularly Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain for involuntary domestic labor. A small percentage were trafficked for sexual exploitation to Europe via Lebanon.

How many women equal "a small percentage"?

"... Private entities arranged for overseas work and, as a result, traffickers sent women to Middle Eastern countries--particularly Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates--as domestic or industrial workers. These women typically were trafficked through Djibouti, Yemen, and Syria. The chief of the investigation and detention center in Lebanon reported in October [2005] that 30 thousand Ethiopian women worked in Beirut, the vast majority of whom were trafficked. ... Approximately 50 percent of these women were not able to return legally to their home country. ..."

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