A video showing a young Ethiopian maid being dragged by the hair, beaten and forced into a car by several Lebanese men in a busy Beirut street has shocked and alarmed the Lebanese public. On March 14, a few days after the video was shot, the young maid committed suicide in a psychiatric ward.
The scene, captured by a cell phone camera, occurred in front of the Ethiopian consulate in Beirut. The maid, named Alem Dechasa, is lying on the ground, crying and pleading in Ethiopian: "I don’t want to go there!" An onlooker can be heard attempting to stop the man beating her: "Stop it, what’s your problem? Let her go back to the consulate." But a few moments later, another man grabs Dechasa’s collar and drags her on the ground, then tries to force her into a car. She resists, and one of the men violently grabs her hair – at which point the video cuts. The footage has caused public outrage and spread on the Web after it was aired on the Lebanese channel LBCI last week.
The main perpetrator of the violent acts in the video, identified by the licence plate of his car, is Ali Mahfouz, the owner of a maid service agency that employs many migrant workers. He told LBCI that the young girl, one of the agency’s recruits, had attempted to commit suicide several times. He claims that he had taken her to her consulate for her to be sent her back to her country, which she categorically refused.
Ethiopian consular officials said that they found Dechasa too unstable to be sent back to Ethiopia, and had advised Mahfouz to take her to a psychiatric hospital in the city. After they left, the consular officials said they heard screams and shouts coming from the street and called the police. According to Mahfouz, he was trying to get Dechasa into a car to drive her to the airport when the police interfered and took her to the Deir al-Salib psychiatric ward.
Like many of her colleagues, Dechasa had gone into debt to pay the agency that had brought her to Lebanon illegally, two months before her death. An estimated 200,000 house employees, mostly from Ethiopia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Madagascar, currently work in Lebanon. Over 100,000 of them are believed to have no working papers.