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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Lebanon: NGO Amel, alert for exploitation of foreign women

About 200,000 new "slaves", goal is preventing suicides

10 MAY, 14:11

(ANSAmed) - ROME, 10 MAY - Mistreated, enslaved, sometimes abused. According to estimates, very often, even every single week, some of them can't take any more and decide to put an end to their life. They are so upset that they commit suicide. We are talking about foreign women workers who migrated to Lebanon in search of a job. They come from Ethiopia, from Bangladesh, from Philippines and from other countries. 200,000 women in total, of 13 different nationalities. They often are illegal immigrants; however, most times their identity documents are seized by their "masters". The NGO Amel ("Amel means work in Arabic) tries to help them by supplying social, psychological and medical care. Zeina Mohanna is her organisation's coordinator of the project for the defence of migrant women in Lebanon. These days, she is in Italy with a delegation of Egyptian, Jordanian and Lebanese social workers in order to study a system providing protection and assistance for migrants and enabling the fight against human trafficking in her country.

The NGO she works with is one of the major organizations in Lebanon and has obtained the status of consulting member of the United Nations (Ecosos). ''Amel", Mohanna told," manages a wide network of healthcare points all over Lebanon's territory, especially in the Valley of Beqaa, in southern Lebanon and in the suburbs of Beirut." The NGO provides assistance also to refugees from Iraq and Sudan and, now, to approximately 12,000 Syrian evacuees. "Our goal is to support anyone who needs help, regardless of their religion or other things." The phenomenon of suicide among foreign workers is of particular concern. Human Rights Watch had already exposed such phenomenon in 2008-2009. Physical and verbal abuse, impossible working hours, total prohibition to leave the house they work in, very low salaries, passport seizure are all common facts. "These women", Mohanna continues, "access the country through a so-called sponsorship. They are registered under the sponsorship of their employer or someone else in the family. And then, their identity documents are automatically seized." That's when the sponsor becomes the person responsible for the worker's actions.

''We are fighting in order to allow these women to enter Lebanon through a visa and a regular working permit. We want to prevent them from becoming the property of their employer." The phenomenon is even enhanced by recruiting agencies. There are 520 of them all over the country, Mohanna specified. Only 160 of them are regularly registered in the syndicate and are, therefore, legal. All the other are completely unlawful and they often promise jobs that do not actually exist. Helping these women to get out of this situation is possible. "We are asking for them to be protected either by a specific law regulating their work and their rights or by ordinary labour legislation, just as any other worker." An awareness-raising campaign is much needed. "Part of our work consists of raising awareness of both Lebanese citizens and migrant women, making them understand their rights and inviting them to ask for help to people who can support them." Amel organised a help line for those who need social, psychological, medical and legal assistance. ''We work with Caritas, Un ponte per.. and other organizations. This afternoon in Rome, Mohanna will take part in the conference "The Mediterranean, a sea of slaves", organised by "Un ponte per..", focusing on data and main issues related to immigration and exploitation of foreign workers in Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon.

"We are here to learn best practices implemented in Italy and to study how to organise the "shelters" (reception centres for first aid of women needing assistance and subjected to mistreatment, e.n).(ANSAmed).

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