An abused Nigerian domestic worker in Lebanon was prevented from boarding an evacuation flight after her employer intervened and claimed he “[owned] her”, Middle East Eye (MEE) reports.
According to Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Geoffrey Onyeama, 50 trafficked women returned to Nigeria from Lebanon on Sunday, alongside a further 19 nationals who had been stranded in the country due to coronavirus restrictions.
Anti-trafficking activists, however, told MEE eight women were prevented from boarding the repatriation flight, including 31-year-old Ariwolo Olamide Temitope.
An image of Temitope wearing a surgical mask and a New York Yankees baseball cap and pushing an airport luggage trolley circulated on social media.
Activists at “This is Lebanon”, a coalition of former kafala system workers which expose abuses perpetrated by Lebanese employers, however, said they received a message in which Temitope said she had not been permitted to board the flight, shortly after the photo was taken.
According to the MEE report, the message read: “I was not allowed to enter [sic] plane to Nigeria. They said my madam did not approve me to leave Lebanon country.”
Temitope was assaulted by her Lebanese employers who then stopped her from leaving on the emergency evacuation flight. Because they own her. @NaomiCampbell @IshaSesay https://t.co/STnK6nU7xp#lebanon#abolishkafala pic.twitter.com/IosajL63Ci
— This Is Lebanon (@ThisIsLebanonLB) May 25, 2020
The kafala system is a migration sponsorship scheme which ties legal residency to employment. However, the system has frequently been condemned as a form of modern day slavery which leaves employees vulnerable to physical and mental abuse.
Temitope was reportedly offered $100 a month in exchange for sex, and was attacked by her employer, Mahmoud Zahran, and received a blow to the mouth on 25 April, after he accused her of stealing a phone while she spoke to her family in Nigeria.
After the attack, the 31-year-old Nigerian took a video of herself with a bloody mouth. Visibly distressed in the clip, she says “Help me. Oh lord. How long do I want to keep doing this? And I didn’t take the phone. Look how they beat me! Look how they beat me!”.
Temitope later fled the home with assistance from a leader of the Nigerian community in Lebanon, according to reports by “This Is Lebanon”.
The video of Temitope and an Al Jazeera article on the case resulted in her employers, Zahran and his wife, Feyzeh Diab, being blacklisted. Nevertheless, blacklisting is something employers can easily work around by hiring under a different family name.
A criminal investigation into the incident was also opened, but the results of such inquiries are rarely made public, sparking concerns over whether they genuinely take place.