Forty-three Nigerian women are currently holed up in three safe houses in Beirut, Lebanon, after they were kicked out of their employers’ home where they worked as domestic workers, following a massive explosion in Lebanon on August 4.
The explosion at a portside warehouse in Beirut caused adverse shockwaves that killed 135 and wounded 5,000 people. On August 10, following widespread protests, Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab along with his cabinet resigned from office.
The explosion uncorked pent up anger of the Lebanese people who were already undergoing a stringent financial crisis exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic with increased job losses.
However, migrant domestic workers, mostly from countries in Africa, were the worst hit.
Even before the explosion, many African domestic workers were dumped on the streets of Lebanon by employers following an economic recession, aggravated by COVID-19. Without money and passports, some of the ladies were sexually exploited.
Under the Kafala sponsorship system, the immigration status of foreign domestic workers in Lebanon is tied to their employers. This slave-like labour law perpetuates exploitation and abuse.
Dara Foi’Ella, a Beirut-based human rights activist with Syrian eyes explained to Global Voices via WhatsApp that the Nigerian women are currently in three safe houses.
One safe house is crammed with 30 women in two apartments. Foi’Ella stated that this house is located in a “dangerous ghetto” where these women have allegedly suffered attempted physical and sexual assaults. “Some men tried to break into the house. The girls had to wedge the door with sofas to prevent them from breaking in,” Foi’Ella said.
A second safe house hosts seven women, while a third safe house has six women. These two houses are located in a safer area of Beirut. Some of the women staying in the second safe house were among those repatriated to Nigeria on August 12:
Many of the women — trafficked into Lebanon by Nigerian agents — either ran away or were kicked out by the Lebanese employers after the explosion. None have valid Nigerian passports since they are forcefully kept by their employers.
According to various sources, many of the women continue to endure ongoing verbal harassment and trauma from their employers who are luring them back to their slave-like jobs.
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