The testimony of Rushna, elder sister Devi.
I came to work in Madam Lamia’s house on 12th September 2008. I got a salary of $125 per month for the first three years. I wanted to go home to Bangladesh my 3-year contract ended but Madam Lamia said that …(?) was closed in Bangladesh so I couldn’t go. So I didn’t go home.
I used to work cleaning two houses and it was really too tiring for me so I asked for a raise in my salary; then they started paying me $150. But it was very tiring cleaning two houses so I told Madam that I didn’t want to work in two houses. Hearing this, Madam along with her daughter, physically assaulted me and started to give me less food and I wasn’t allowed to eat at the table nor sit down to eat – I had to eat my food straight from the oven while I was standing. They wanted me to work in both the houses. They said if I didn’t agree then they would force my younger sister to work (she came to Lebanon in 2011 to work for Madame Lamia’s sister-in-law). They gave me $150 per month for two years and Madam used to send the money home for me and provided me with the code number and 500LL to call home to give them the code number.
I worked for almost five years for such a little money. Then, again, I wanted to go home but Madam didn’t allow me. Two of my family members died within this period; my relatives called Madam from Bangladesh, but she didn’t allow me to go home. She would ask what my relatives were calling for – if was bad news, she’d tell them I was out so that I couldn’t talk to them. She informed me of the deaths; I cried a lot but could not go home. Two months later, I again demanded to be allowed to go home but she verbally abused me. She did not give me a single day off in those six years of my service and I never left the house alone. I kept on requesting her to let me go home.
I bought a gold chain and a pair of earrings with my own salary (worth $490) with the help of Madam and her daughter. After that I kept my jewellery with Madam as I trusted her as my owner. I had also brought a gold chain, two pairs of earrings and a nose pin with me from Bangladesh which are all with Madam.
Madam didn’t give me my salary for 5 months (June 2014 – Nov 2014) – $900. My jewellery and unpaid salary are all with Madam. She told me she would give me everything – jewellery, money and ticket home. She told me this on Wednesday, December 3rd, at 5 pm in the afternoon.
I brought my younger sister Devi to work in the home of Madam’s sister-in-law (Madam Ellen) who was very sick. She came to Lebanon on 2nd July 2011. Madam Ellen knew that we were sisters. Madam Lamia brought Madam Ellen to her house and from then on we all used to stay together. Madam Ellen was sick and used to go to the toilet in her bed – we two sisters used to clean it up.
Many times Madam Ellen bit me and my sister and pulled our hair – but we never said anything as we were really helpless. We didn’t have anything in Bangladesh and we needed money. But Madam Ellen was a nice lady; she only became violent towards us when she was very sick. Madam Lamia’s daughter, Grace, got married and from then on we had to work in her house as well – in total we had to work for three families. It was really tiring and we were sad – yet we worked hard and we didn’t have anything bad in our mind.
Suddenly, Madam Ellen died and then Madam Lamia wanted my younger sister to transfer to a different house. But she told them her husband was in Lebanon and she wanted to go to him and requested a ‘Tanezol’, which was done. Her husband contacted Madam Lamia and wanted to know when they would they drop her off. Later Madam Lamia’s son, Dimitri, took her to her husband. Before she left, Madam Lamia checked all of her bags thoroughly.
Thereafter, she had no contact with the family nor with me. Then 4 months later, suddenly, the police went to their house and took her and her husband to the Barbar Khazin Police Station. They said she had taken money from Madame Lamia’s house and they brutally beat us and her husband. Haidar beat us up so much that my brother-in-law fell unconscious and I wet my pants. My sister told them she didn’t have any money. But still the police beat us. Then she lied and said that she had taken the money. She lied to save her husband and me. But truly she didn’t take any money. Before I was taken to the police, Madame Lamia told me to say my sister took the money and that if I did that, she would buy my ticket home. Truly, neither of us stole anything.
After they beat us up a lot they finally put us in jail – my husband, my sister Ema and I. This is my story in a foreign land. I hope that what happened to me never happens to anyone else.
We have now been in Barbar Khazin prison for about 6 months and only attended one hearing the day before Christmas. Here we sit, innocent, with no lawyer and no one to help us. We request the following in order for justice to be done:
1. Immediate repatriation to Bangladesh. I have been asking Madame Lamia to send me back for the last 4 years. Before I was in Barbar Khazin prison, I was in prison in her house.
2. Payment of $900 owing to me for June-Nov 2014.
3. Payment for the period I have sat in prison earning nothing, unjustly accused by Madame Lamia. I have four children at home to feed.
4. For the Judge to order Madame Lamia to return my gold necklace, and two pairs of gold earrings.
5. The police must return my gold necklace, nose-ring and earrings.
For my younger sister:
1. Release from prison so she and her husband can continue their work in Lebanon.
2. The return of her earrings, necklace, and nose-ring and her telephone which the police took.
3. For the judge to order Madame Lamia to pay for each month her and her husband are in prison unjustly accused.
Translated from Bengali to English by Dr. Badrul Munir Sohel, MD MSc PhD, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)