Worker says she jumped to escape abuse

By Timour Azhari

BEIRUT: A 20-year-old Ethiopian domestic worker has said she jumped from a balcony in an attempt to escape her abusive employers, in video testimony shared this week on Facebook. Lensa Lelisa said in a video taken from her hospital bed on March 19 that she jumped from the balcony after being regularly beaten, abused and threatened by her employers for months following her arrival in Lebanon last July.

The video had 52,000 views as of 7 p.m. Tuesday after it was translated into English and shared Monday by This is Lebanon, a Facebook page dedicated to migrant worker issues.

Lelisa, along with some 100,000 other Ethiopian migrants in Lebanon, is employed under the Kafala system, which binds them to one employer.

Her video testimony contradicts interviews with the Internal Security Forces after the incident, who claimed Lelisa said she had fallen from the second floor of her employer’s house while cleaning.

Lelisa was admitted to Serhal Hospital in the Metn town of Antelias on March 11 with serious injuries, including two broken legs.

The video was shot in the presence of an Ethiopian activist and Lelisa’s aunt.

“Let’s make a video so all the world will see,” one of the women says off-camera at the beginning of the video.

In the video, Lelisa identifies her employer as Eleanore Ajami, who runs a haute couture fashion company, Eleanore Couture.

Multiple sources corroborated that Ajami was Lelisa’s employer.

Lelisa also claims that her employer’s adult children – Joe, Alexis and Crystel Khalil – participated in the abuse, which she claimed included dragging her across the floor by her hair, smashing her face into walls and beating her with electrical cables.

Alexis Khalil commented on This Is Lebanon’s video, saying, “It is unfair to defame our reputation and our business reputation without verifying the authenticity of the video and if the truth is said without any pressure or exaggeration.”

She added: “Lensa is getting better now and in safe hands. She will go back to her family in Ethiopia.”

In response to a request for comment from The Daily Star, a member of the family sent a text message saying, “Our judicial bodies and the embassy of Ethiopia have the answers. And thank you for your concern we appreciate [it].”

Ethiopian Embassy Counselor Melaw Getath told The Daily Star that “[Lelisa] fell down while she was cleaning” and that Lelisa returned to her employer’s home Monday while “the case is still being followed up.”

A source close to the Lelisa family, speaking on behalf of Lelisa’s aunt due to language barriers, told The Daily Star that Lelisa had long spoken of abuse by her employers.

The source said that when the Internal Security Forces interviewed Lelisa two weeks ago, she told investigators she “slipped while cleaning,” but “[Lelisa’s aunt] spoke to her after and [Lelisa] said she had said this because her boss threatened to kill her.”

The subsequent interview by humanitarian organization Caritas was held in the presence of Lelisa’s sponsor, sources with knowledge of the interview said.

As Lelisa’s statement to the ISF said she had slipped while cleaning, the case was now closed, a source with knowledge of the investigations told The Daily Star.

In order for the case to be reopened, Mount Lebanon Public Prosecutor Sami Sadder would have to expand the investigation and Lelisa would likely have to call for further investigation, a judicial source said.

The source close to Lelisa’s family said contact with Lelisa had been irregular since she left hospital.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 28, 2018, on page 3.
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