Sajita Lama, a 29-year-old Nepali domestic worker, was reportedly confined in Lebanon by her employers, hairdresser Richard Khoury and his wife Rana Germanos, for over a decade after they stopped paying her in 2012.
The NGO This Is Lebanon, an activist for domestic workers’ rights in the country, was first to showcase the suffering of Sajita, “cut off from the outside world and forced to labor without pay,” according to the NGO.
Sajita was a teenager when she arrived in Lebanon from Nepal in September of 2010 to work at the hairdresser’s home. Like all migrant workers, she left her country and loved ones behind for the sole purpose to support her impoverished family in Nepal. That didn’t happen.
In the beginning, Sajita was okay. According to her relatives, she got paid for the first year and nine months of her employment. However, the payments for her mother stopped in 2012.
Sajita’s family tried to get the attention of the Nepalese embassy in Beirut to take up her case to no avail.
When This Is Lebanon started investigating her case, the hairdresser’s wife reportedly gave conflicting stories. She first said that Sajita ran away from home, and then that Sajita was working at her father’s home.
The wife also revealed that Sajita’s passport had expired. She explained that she and her husband claimed to pay a $100 monthly salary in cash, but that they kept the money at home for “safekeeping”.
Today, they owe their employee about $22,000 in total sum.
This Is Lebanon launched her case over social media and managed to have Sajita freed on August 25, 2021. She spent 5 months in a shelter arranged by the NGO, and her mental health started to deteriorate.
It wasn’t until Tuesday, February 15, that Sajita managed to make it home in Nepal, yet still without the salary owed to her.
It was the NGO that covered her ticket as she was left with nothing. The employers even refused to pay her ticket, as revealed by the NGO.
Another painful story of slavery the Lebanese authorities abstained from stopping due to the Kafala System and its disgraceful rules. Activism in Lebanon has been relentless to bring the state to amend it with a fair employment contract, to no avail.
This Is Lebanon is among these local organizations calling for the eradication of the Kafala and humane treatment of migrant domestic workers. Since 2017, it has been doing its best, all considered, to aid domestic workers from different nationalities.
Many foreign domestic workers have been facing violence and discrimination in Lebanon, with many working without getting paid, like in the case of Sajita, and others not being able to leave their employer’s home. Some cases of violence and death have been also recorded.
The Lebanese people keep asking “until when” they will keep witnessing these terrible stories in their country and what else the law-makers need to awaken to the urgency of removing or amending the Kafala laws.
This is how Sajita was welcomed back home, in Nepal, after being confined for over 10 years in Lebanon: