BEIRUT -- Dozens of domestic workers gathered outside the Ethiopian Consulate in Beirut on Thursday, some inquiring about flights home, others stranded after they were abandoned by employers who claimed they could no longer afford to pay their salaries.
About 180,000 domestic workers in Lebanon, most of them women from Ethiopia, are growing more desperate as a crippling economic and financial crisis sets in, coupled with coronavirus restrictions.
The Labor Ministry organized buses late Wednesday that transported about 35 women left stranded outside the consulate to a hotel in Beirut after they spent the day on the street with their belongings, some of them crying. Scenes on local television prompted the ministry to take action, offering the women shelter until they could be flown out of the country. Lebanon's airport has been shuttered since mid-March as part of measures to help step the spread of the new coronavirus.
On Thursday, there were new arrivals.
"They are dumping us like trash,” said one worker who had been in Lebanon for seven years and was now looking to go back home after her employers drove her to the consulate.
“We are human, would they accept for their children to be treated this way?” said the woman, Aster, who gave only her first name for fear of reprisal for speaking to the media.
Labor Minister Lamia Douaihy vowed on Twitter to take necessary measures against employers who commit “humanitarian violations.”
Lebanon has been hit by an unprecedented economic and financial crisis made worse by the lockdown related to the virus. The foreign currency crisis has led to many migrants not being paid for months or the value of their salaries declining by more than half. Others have lost their jobs after employers dumped them on the streets or outside their embassies.
Many are unable to go home, because they cannot afford the price of a repatriation flight or because global air travel is severely restricted.
Some among Thursday's crowd came to inquire about flights back home.
“I came here because I want to travel home. ... I have a daughter and I have no work (here), I have no house, I have nothing. Where shall I stay?” said worker Birke Angello.