A migrant domestic worker has taken her former employer to court in Lebanon, alleging slavery and the slave trade.
The lawsuit, which was brought to court by London-based non-profit group Legal Action Worldwide (LAW), marks the first such criminal case in the Middle East.
Ethiopian Meseret Hailu Deneke, 37, says she was exploited and treated like a slave by her employer, May Saadeh, 49, alongside the recruitment agency that brought her to Lebanon.
Deneke alleges that she was forced to work without pay for seven years and was beaten during that time and banned from communicating with the outside world. His family say that after years of no communication, they sought help from Ethiopian lawyers and activists, who eventually located and brought his home back in 2019.
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Talking about her hometown, Dera, she said the National“I want justice. I wish my case could serve as a warning to all abusers that their crimes will one day catch up with them.”
A preliminary hearing took place yesterday at the courthouse in Baabda, Mount Lebanon, in the presence of the employer, Saadeh. However, the recruitment agency accused in the slave trade lawsuit failed to show up.
While LAW requested an arrest warrant against the recruiter, the judge was reportedly unable to do so as their identity remains unknown. The case will be heard again on March 31.
About 250,000 migrant domestic workers are currently in Lebanon, mainly from countries in Africa and Asia. Many are trapped by the kafala system, which effectively links the legal residence of a worker to the contractual relationship with an employer.
Under this form of sponsorship, migrants are excluded from Lebanese labor laws and are not protected from exploitative conditions. In turn, a migrant is vulnerable to exploitation, as they fear losing their residency status and being deported.
convictions for kafala System-related crimes are extremely rare in Lebanon.