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Kenyan women stranded and begging in the streets of Lebanon

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  Some of the Kenyan women stranded and begging in the streets of Beirut, Lebanon. [Courtesy, Standard]

When Agnes Moraa left the country for Lebanon in June this year, she dreamt of a better life for her and her parents for whom she was planning to build a decent home. And as though her stars were properly aligned this time round, she landed a good home with kind bosses who treated her as part of the family.

Surely she was finally realising her dream and at the rate at which things were going it would only take two years for her to see the fruits of her labour.

Then things took a turn for the worst and her nightmare in a foreign country began. Moraa realised she was pregnant and decided to reveal to her boss her condition. She was promptly chased her away.

There she was, barely 30, pregnant and in a foreign country with no clue on where to go next.

She luckily got shelter at Caritas Internationalis Lebanon who were housing many other women who had escaped employment for different reasons.

Long wait

The women, many of whom were Kenyans, after awaiting travel arrangements from Lebanon for four months felt the process was taking too long and sought private means to contact the consulate for help.

"They made us sign a release and allowed us out," says 26-year-old Eunice Olesi.

She says they were more than 50 young women at the shelter, but only the Kenyans decided to leave. They were about 16 women.

"The food was decent, the centre comfortable but people at home expect that you are making money and are waiting for you to send upkeep for parents and the children you left back home. Therefore, we just couldn't sit back and relax. Something had to be done!" says Olesi.

They ventured out of the center, pooling their resources asking the way to the Kenyan consulate and sleeping in the street cuddled close to one another for warmth and comfort.

The group mainly consisted of 'runaways', with only two having their travel documents. The rest had their passports as a photo in their mobile phone gallery with a few having neither phone nor document to identify themselves.

But what all these women shared perhaps is the horrendous tale that made them brave the streets of a foreign land as opposed to living and working with the people who paid for their travel to Beirut.

Take the case of Maureen Nanjala, who claims not to have earned a cent despite working from 5am to 11pm, in Beirut for months.

"Whenever I asked for my salary, they beat me up and locked me up in the toilet for two days to teach me manners. I really was nothing more than a slave," she said.

She said she had been promised a salary of 200 dollars per month and even the 100 dollars her employers pledged to pay turned out to be a pipe dream.

"She would hire me out to her friends and only offer one meal per day. That's why I decided to run, leaving behind all my travel and Identity documents," she says adding that she's now desperate to get back home.

Another woman says that she was met at the airport by her employer who took her home and promptly proceeded to sexually assault her. "I knew no one and didn't know where to report," she says.

She stayed for six months and when she asked for her salary, was given pay for only two months.

"I decided to confront him and was severely beaten and locked out of the house.That's when I decided enough is enough," she says.

After staying in the streets for two weeks, a stranger directed her to the Caritas shelter where she met other women in similar condition.

And the narrative is the same for many women who decrying beatings, starvation and other inhumanities they suffered at the hands of their employers.

At the Kenyan consulate, an official undertook, in writing, to help the women get back home.

But the wait, according to Olesi, has been long.

"The 14 days promised turned out to be two months with the official not available even on the phone," she says.

She says a Kenyan woman that has lived in Beirut for 10 years offered to help, and put them up in an apartment as travel preparations began, but would also later abandon them.

The women, she says, were left alone in an empty house with no running water and no power, to survive on the goodwill off well-wishers. Lately, the landlord has asked them to come up with rent or leave.

"We are begging in the street to survive with no hope of ever getting back," said Olesi.

"The toilet is overflowing, the premises smells terrible and some among the women are pregnant and unwell. It's our plea that the government does something to help us get back home or surely we shall all die here," says Olesi

When The Standard reached out to an agent who sent one of the affected women to Beirut, Lebanon, he said any worker sent abroad should report to the agent whenever problems arise, so they can get help. He also threatened this writer against publishing the story.

"No one came to report to me that my client has left her place of work or is suffering so I am not aware," said the agent.

The woman he was referring to, in a WhatsApp voice note to this writer, however claimed that she reported the matter only for the agent in Lebanon to beat her and force her to accept another job which failed to work out as well. That's why she chose to take her chances at finding her own way home.

"The only help they offer is ordering that you go to the agent , where you get beaten again. They do not agree to help you go home before the contract ends and will instead force you to accept another posting," she said.

Director for Diaspora at Ministry of Foreign Affairs Washington Oloo, said they were aware that the women wish to come back home and were making arrangements to have them assisted.

"We knew about their case and our consulate was working out ways of bringing them back only for them to leave Caritas who are partnering with us to help them come back," he said.

The women, he said, left the place where they were being taken care off for the streets of Beirut even as the government works on getting them back home.

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