I couldn’t stand living like a slave
November 29, 2017
“Once, she locked me in an empty room for three days with nothing to eat or drink. No water, nothing! I’d never felt thirst like that before, the desperation was driving me mad, I even drank my own urine.” Rosa, a Togolese former domestic worker in Lebanon.
Rosa is one of the thousands of migrant domestic workers who found themselves in forced labour after accepting a job abroad. The ILO’s Forced Labour Protocol aims to protect women like Rosa. Read her story:
I regret leaving Togo, I regret quitting my job in the factory, and I deeply regret leaving my kids. But I thought I was helping my children and I thought that I was giving them a chance at a better future. The job in Lebanon promised an extra 40 USD a month. That money could have done so much good for my family, but it was all lies.
I arrived in Beirut and the agency placed me in a wealthy family that lived in the suburbs. They had many beautiful things. I worked there for ten months, day and night without a break and without a single day off.
I was allowed to eat twice a day, for only two minutes at 2 pm or 10 pm. Madam stood there and timed me with her phone, and then the alarm would go off. I was only given a piece of bread, and Madam would never hand it to me, she would toss it on the ground. If I hadn’t finished my bread when the two minutes were up, Madam would snatch it away and throw it in the bin. She never gave me water, so I would hide and drink water from the bathroom.
TRICKED & TRAPPED
Once, she locked me in a room for three days with nothing to eat or drink. I was so desperate that I drank my own urine. Everyday Madam would beat me for no reason with a shoe, a stick or a belt. Today, I still get pains in my ears from where she hit me. I wanted to leave but I was always being monitored and they were always locking me in, plus they hadn’t yet paid me. One day I asked to leave but Madam told me that they had spent lots of money to have me there so I had to stay without any salary for 15 months.
I thought that it couldn’t get any worse, but it did.
One day, after 10 months of working for them, I woke up in the hospital with stitches on my stomach. The stitches were very neat, a straight line directly up the centre of my stomach. I didn’t know what had happened, and nobody would tell me. Finally, Madam told me that I had fallen from the window. But it didn’t make sense, I couldn’t remember being near the window. They refused to give me any more answers. After two days in the hospital, Madam’s father came to get me, I was still bleeding and weak but he took me to his house and locked me in a room with no windows. I spent 8 days locked in that dark room. One day Madam opened the door and said: “You’re going home now”.
They left me at the airport, with a ticket, my suitcase, and 2 months’ salary, instead of the 10 months’ salary that I was owed. I was so weak that I could hardly stand, but I was finally away from Madam and the others. I slowly dragged my bag into the airport, every step felt like a mile. Then I got to the General Security, they examined my passport then looked at me suspiciously. I was 72 kg when I came to Lebanon, I was 32 kg when the nightmare ended.
The General Security noticed how ill and weak I looked and refused to let me travel, instead calling my employer who reluctantly dropped me at the recruitment agency that had first placed me in the family. I remember how horrified the agent looked at the sight of me. I told them everything that had happened and they sent me directly to the hospital. Then they called Caritas, after a week in the hospital, I went to the Caritas shelter.
At the shelter, the other girls were scared of me because I was so skinny, but Caritas helped me to recover. They gave me back my life. They gave me a lawyer who together with General Security, fought for me to get compensation and I was awarded 6000 USD. In the shelter, I even learnt how to make greeting cards which I want to make into my own little business in Togo. Soon I’ll be back in Togo, I’ve been dreaming about my home and my family. When I’m back in Togo, I want to go on the radio and to tell my story, people need to know, they need to know what is happening here.
Caritas 165 member organizations link together in a confederation to serve the world’s poor, vulnerable, dispossessed and marginalized. Caritas is a partner of the ILO’s 50 for Freedom campaign which raises awareness of modern slavery and promotes ratification of the Forced Labour Protocol. To find out more go to www.50forfreedom.org.
Since 1994, Caritas Lebanon responds to the legal, social and humanitarian needs of migrant domestic workers and refugees. To date, they have provided vital support to more than 1,540,000 migrant beneficiaries.
The ILO and Caritas Lebanon have conducted an ambitious research to better understand the barriers to access to justice faced by migrant domestic workers in Lebanon.
Caritas Lebanon is a partner of Migrant Forum Asia (MFA) a regional network of non-government organizations (NGOs), associations and trade unions of migrant workers, and individual advocates in Asia who are committed to protect and promote the rights and welfare of migrant workers. MFA is also a partner of 50 for Freedom.
What is the Kafala System?
The visa sponsorship system governs millions of migrant workers in the Middle East. Workers are tied to one sponsor or kafeel. In most countries, the sponsor controls most aspects of their lives. The ILO FAIRWAY project is working on ways to reform the most exploitative aspects of the kafala sponsorship system. Several countries in the region have started to reform the kafala system.
*This story is based on a real testimony, names have been changed.