People walk through the streets of a shopping area in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Picture: REUTERS
People walk through the streets of a shopping area in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Picture: REUTERS

Addis Ababa — Ethiopian mother Alemtsehay Nasir went to Lebanon dreaming that her maid’s job would let her earn money to make a better life for her young son. But she was fired when the Covid-19 pandemic hit and her employers dumped her on the streets.

The 32-year-old was left on the curb outside the Ethiopian consulate in a suburb of Beirut, one of hundreds of women abandoned by employers without the means to get home after the pandemic hit, on top of a financial crisis that has devastated the Lebanese economy.

Lebanese labour laws offer little protection for migrant workers. The best the women can hope for is that a charity will help them get home.

“They just take them out and dump them on the streets with their belongings,” Alemtsehay told Reuters. “Even right now, there are many women on the streets, waiting for someone to come to their rescue.”

Ethiopia accounts for the biggest percentage of migrant workers in Lebanon, according to Lebanese government data.

In May, Alemtsehay was one of about 650 women returned to Ethiopia on a flight organised by Addis Ababa authorities and the UN International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

Another woman on the flight said she had been dumped without her wages or passport and arrested for not having identification. She did not want Reuters to identify her for fear that traffickers that she paid to bring her to Lebanon would track her down and force her to repay her debts.

Maureen Achieng, IOM’s chief of mission in Ethiopia, said women were still keen to work in Lebanon despite the horror stories.

“The dangers are for the most part well known but ... not always a sufficient deterrent,” she said. Alemtsehay’s family is just happy to see her.

“Thank God now she is back home, in one piece,” said her mother, Workitu Metaferiya, as Alemtsehay’s six-year-old son smiled shyly. He was two years old the last time she was home.


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