KIAMBU – An ailing Kenyan domestic worker is stranded in a shelter in Lebanon, and is seeking help to return home.
Beatrice Wangari, 20, from Gatundu, Kiambu county, left the country on August 5 in search of greener pastures in the Middle East country to help her poor family.
According to The Star, Wangari got a job as a domestic worker through an employment agency.
“Wangari went to the foreign country to do domestic work with a promise of getting a decent pay and she had high hopes to help her mother, who has been sick for the last seven years, and her three siblings who have been grappling with acute poverty,” the Star reported on Friday.
As other migrant domestic workers in the Middle East have often narrated, the agents made her work for different employers, and in the process, she suffered severe burns on her left arm.
Wangari told her family back home that she was scalded by one of the employers and kicked out as she couldn’t work optimally due to the injury. Her mother, Teresia Njeri, is also ailing.
Another Kenyan from a nearby location in Kiambu county who was until recently in Lebanon corroborated Wangari’s situation.
Julia Wanjiku, who managed to return home on August 30, said she met Wangari on the night of August 29 when she was brought to Caritas shelter, where other girls were being held.
Wanjiku told journalists on Wednesday that Wangari was in severe pain and crying uncontrollably when she was brought to the shelter.
“She was in bad shape when she was brought in. She had a severe burn wound on her hand and was complaining of stomach pains. I managed to inquire about her details and, coincidentally, we happened to be from the same area.
“She gave me her identity card and a small letter to bring to her mother. She was only pleading for help so that she can fly back home,” The Star quoted Wanjiku as saying. She stayed at the shelter for eight months.
Wanjiku decried the conditions at the shelter, saying the girls and women are treated as prisoners, are only allowed to make calls for some minutes in a day and have no access to treatment.
“Most women at the shelter have sunk into depression; they haven’t been paid their salaries and are being denied some basic rights such as access to health services and enough food. They are only given sleeping pills. It’s like a prison,” Wanjiku said.
She was also subjected to hard labour, working on farms for more than15 hours per day.
“I went there hoping to find greener pastures but I found it was hell on earth. The level of mistreatment is untold including going for months without pay. Most of the workers I left there are stressed to a point they can’t eat,” she said.
In a December 2019 statement, a coalition of international women’s and human rights groups likened Lebanon’s migrant domestic worker population to “hostages.”
The family is now pleading with the government through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and well-wishers to help them bring Wangari home.
“I fear I might lose her especially if she doesn’t get any medical help any time soon,” the mother said. said.
Wangari’s case is among many others in the Middle East region, where some domestic workers have returned home in coffins. At least 93 Kenyans died while working in the Middle East between 2019 and 2021, many of them in Saudi Arabia.
This is despite promises by the government through the ministries of Labour and Foreign Affairs promising to ensure their safety and their welfare.
In addition, trade union federations in Kenya and Lebanon in November 2022 signed an MoU to support and empower workers in the country.
The MoU signed between Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU-K) and the National Federation of Worker and Employee Trade Unions in Lebanon (FENASOL) committed to inter-union collaboration on both sides of the migration corridor to create a more solid protection framework.
In January 2022, some 20 Kenyan women held a month-long sit-in and protests in front of their Consulate in Beirut, demanding accountability for the consular staff they accused of exploitation, mistreatment and non-responsiveness, and asking for repatriation and adequate support. Some had their passports taken away due to the Kafal system, in which the employer acts as the sponsor.
Kenyan honorary Vice Consul Kassem Jaber denied any wrongdoing and said, “We are doing our best so we can get to our office to be able to proceed with the repatriation process,” but claimed that the women were not allowing them into the building”.
In March, the protests ended when the Consulate’s office in Badaro closed, and the Kenyan flags removed from the building.
According to the International Labour Organization, the situation of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon remains precarious, particularly as a result of the operation of the kafala system.
ILO says the system creates a heavily unbalanced employer-migrant worker relationship, with limited or absolutely no migrant workers’ freedom of movement, right to terminate employment or change employers, among other negative practices, thus putting them at risk of forced labour.