Two weeks ago, we received a call from an international number. A desperate Kenyan voice was on the phone. Simon wanted to save his girlfriend Emelie from the hands of the Lebanese employers/ agency she was at. She called him pleading for help and he and her cousin Daisy went all the way for that.
We called the number he gave us, his only thread to reaching Emelie. It was the employer. Emelie had been in Lebanon for less than 2 months now, decided she did not want to continue working here for several reasons and legally speaking, she has the right to break the contract before the passing of the 3 months trial period. So the employer gave us the number of the agency since Emelie was there now.
We called the agency: Tarabay agency. A woman answers. She is very rude and intimidated by the fact that someone is asking about Emelie. This does not happen usually and it goes against the system she is used to for long.
So the woman says very confidently and plainly, the only way Emelie leaves Lebanon is if she pays 3,500 $ to the agency. Ie, this Kenyan woman who lawfully has the right travel back as she is in her first 3 months here (something that the agency was denying and ignoring every time we highlighted it), is detained against her will (ie locked up- in a country where she doesnt know anyone) and is asked to pay her salary on 3 years, if she were to stay here and work and get paid, in order to get her freedom back. Slavery in Lebanon? No way.
Day after day, we call and the agency woman gets ruder and more aggressive with the minute. We decide to go up to talk to her face to face and to check on Emelie. Legally, we have the right to do so. Daisy filled a complaint at the ministry of foreign affair in Kenya about Emilie's situation and she delegated Ali one of the people in our team to take charge of following up on her case from Lebanon. We also had the backing of the Kenyan consulate in Beirut and their lawyer.
So we go to Jounieh to the agency. It is on the main highway in a building next to Hawa Chicken, on the third floor. There is a camera on the door of the agency. We heard enough noise when arriving to know for a fact that there are people inside. We knock and wait. No answer. We knock again and again. So we call the 2 numbers that are written on the door. The 09 number no one picks up. The other mobile number a woman answers to and says she is not in the agency now and that we should go and come back. My friend explains what we are not leaving and are here until she comes back to let us meet Emelie. She then decides to say that there is a lunch break and it will not finish before 2 hours. Creativity at lieing.
It is important to note, that 5 mins before arriving to the agency, someone from the team called the agency (on the same 09 number that no one is answering to now) to ask about the address and they did answer her.
So we stay there and the people who are inside (because there are people inside) sort of freak out because they know we are serious about not leaving. 15 mins throughout this process, my friend's phone rings and it shows as unkown. He picks up and we go down the elevator so we are away from the camera when speaking. A man answers him and then starts swearing right and left about him, his mother (of course), the Kenyan consulate, the consul and everyone which my friend mentioned who is backing us up on this and thereby giving us credibility yo be there. He ends his call by giving my friend a death threat. Stay away from this case or else.
We go up the car and drive to Makhfar Jounieh. We tell them about the Emilie detention and the death threat. They were very nice to us. They ask us to file a complaint in the "niyebe 3amma" and we do so. An hour after that, the owner of the agency calls, trying all possible means of intimidation, soft and harsh, to let us drop the Emilie case. He got the shock of his life when we explained that we are serious about taking the case to court and that we are not dropping the Emilie case for nothing. He admitted that the phone call we got was not him but someone who works for him in the agency; apparently someone with a very clean mouth who is hired just for such circumstances.
Two days through that, we receive a call from Kenya and this time, it is Emilie on the other end of the line. They made her travel on the first plane after that day and even paid for her plane ticket, which in normal case scenarios, she should handle.
The agency did succumb after knowing about the lawsuit. Now, Emilie is home safe and sound after a traumatizing experience in Lebanon. She is back but there are thousands of other women here and there, locked up, hungry, unpaid, abused, etc...
Now we can take one on one cases forever but that does not solve one tinge of the crisis at hand. We need laws. We need monitoring mechanisms. We need a sane Ministry of Labor and a saner Ministry of Interior. We need a whole mentality change. We need to start from scratch.