We Lebanese are famous for flouting rules in our home country while strictly abiding by them when abroad. I can think of hundreds of examples such as smoking bans, traffic rules, and electricity theft to name a few. But we have a much darker side: disrespect for our fellow human beings:
Nitia was 20 when she arrived in Lebanon from Sri Lanka five years ago to work as a domestic helper for a Lebanese family. Two months ago, after years of alleged physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her employers, she fled the family home – where she had been imprisoned seven days a week for years, she says – without her passport or money.
That was from The National written about the plight of domestic workers in Lebanon. Apparently we are quite eager to export our “skills” when we live abroad:
A Filipino maid who says she was brutally assaulted by her employer is trapped in Dubai because her former boss still has her passport.
“If she wants her passport, she can come and get it herself,” said the employer, who is accused of burning Filipina, Nuan, with an iron, breaking her ribs and permanently scarring her arms, legs and face with a metal whip.
She refused to hand over the passport that would allow Nuan to return to her family in the Philippines.
“Why should I give her anything back? She made a police case against me. If she wants anything back, she can come here and get it,” she said.
The Lebanese-born woman is waiting to hear whether Ajman authorities will press charges against her after she was arrested last August.
Is anyone really surprised? We clearly think that we are better than other people and feel that we have the right to discriminate against them because we are Lebanese. B-side Beirut has a perfect example of government discrimination of foreigners (something I have experienced firsthand while trying to get my then-fiancee a visa to visit Lebanon – she’s an Indian national):
A friend of mine decided to come to Lebanon for a visit with her American husband. She has a Green Card and has been living in the US for almost a decade. She approaches the consul with a full-fledged application asking for a multiple-entry tourist visa to Lebanon. Mr. Consul stares at her application, stares at her wide-eyed and asks:
– And you are from India?
– What do you do for a living again?
– I am a professor at XYZ University.
– Well, call in a couple of weeks. But to be honest with you, I don’t think it is possible for you to get a visa.
I personally had the most difficult time persuading the Consulate in the UAE that not all Indians are domestic workers and that (shock and horror) there are many who would like to visit Lebanon as tourists with money to spend and not overstay their visas. I mean come on, you live and work in the UAE, why the hell would you, as a foreigner, want to abscond and become an illegal alien in Lebanon?
As different NGOs launch campaigns to “educate the masses” the question really is, where do we begin? We have a population that places class levels on people based on their nationality and we have a government that does the same.