Kenya: All Kenyans Stranded in Lebanon Are Back Home - Embassy

16 September 2020

The last group of women who were stranded in Lebanon after they lost their jobs have returned to Kenya.

This comes after a well-wisher offered to foot the cost of tickets for some, along with efforts from government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

The group of 18 left Beirut on Sunday and Monday in batches of nine and were expected in Nairobi by Tuesday, closing a chapter that has dented Kenya's image abroad after reports emerged that officials at the Lebanon consulate were mistreating needy women.

Kenya's consulate in Beirut confirmed to the Nation that the women had left the country after obtaining travel papers including valid Covid-19 certificates.

Kassem Jaber, the Assistant Consul-General, said the consulate and the Kenyan Embassy in Kuwait facilitated the departures and paid for some tickets while well-wishers volunteered to foot some of the bills.

"With the cooperation of the embassy in Kuwait, all tickets were paid for with the Covid-19 tests," he said.

"Some of the tickets were paid for by NGOs, but most of them were paid for by the consulate and the Embassy in Kuwait."

Controversial employment system

The women were working as domestic workers under the controversial Kafala system that is used to monitor migrant workers across parts of west Asia. The system emerged in the 1950s and bonds employees to their masters.

However, during the Covid-19 pandemic, many Kenyan women working in Lebanon lost their jobs. When an explosion occurred in Beirut last month, displacing some 300,000 people and killing at least 150, the economic situation was made worse, leading to the women camping outside the Kenyan consulate demanding to be brought home.

The women, about 70 of them, claimed they had often saved their money at the consulate for use to get back home but that the officials had refused to refund the cash or buy them tickets.

On Tuesday, Ms Dea Hage-Chahine, one of the well-wishers who helped feed, clothe and accommodate the women, said she had paid for a significant chunk of the air tickets.

"I paid half, and the other half were paid by an organisation and by the consulate," she told the Nation.

As the women camped at the consulate, Ms Hage-Chahine had worked with local NGOs to provide food and shelter. She also rented an apartment for one of the women who was pregnant.

Previously, Kenya's Consulate in Beirut had said that the stranded Kenyans lacked proper papers to leave.

Mr Jaber had also accused them of being rowdy and refusing to cooperate to apply for emergency travel papers. At the time, the Embassy in Kuwait insisted they would only travel at their own cost.

Rogue consulate?

However, run by Lebanese nationals, the consulate was also accused of ignoring cries of women who gathered at its premises to demand evacuation.

Further, a CNN report documented stories of women who said officials there regularly overcharged them for essential services and acted with impunity, including physically and verbally abusing women who tried to raise alarm.

The plight of Kenyans was taken up by the International Human Rights Commission, a charity in Beirut. Mr Romanos Raad, a representative of IHRC, told the Nation that some of those sleeping in the streets had babies and that one was pregnant.

"If they don't have passports, it doesn't mean they should be in the streets. They consulate should provide them with emergency travel documents."

IHRC said it tried to contact the Foreign Ministry in Nairobi to have the mess addressed after the women complained that consulate officials advised them to prostitute to raise ticket money.

"Most people lost their homes and can't give these girls shelter so they dropped them at the consulate. Besides, Lebanese banks are not giving dollars and people cannot buy anything, not even air tickets or pay salaries."

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