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THE VIDEO

See Mary Grace tell the story of the abuse by Ibtissam Alsaadi and her sons.

THE STORY

Mary Grace Bongao was 20 years old when she arrived in Lebanon on 6 January, 2006. She left behind her family in Manila, Philippines, to start a job as a domestic worker to help support them. 

Mary Grace Bongao worked for Ibtissam Alsaadi and Ali AlKhatib for 11 months before escaping on the day they were moving house. She alleges that she was was sexually abused by her employer’s adult sons, Muhammad and Alaaddein. She worked day and night for Ibtissam Alsaadi, who locked her into her bedroom at night, and psychologically abused Mary Grace in multiple ways. 

During her enslavement, Mary Grace considered suicide as a result of the abuse she suffered. Thirteen years later, she is still traumatised. The Alsaadi-AlKhatib family still owes Mary Grace five months salary.

Upon arrival in Lebanon, Mary Grace’s new employer Ibtissam Alsaadi met her at Beirut airport and took her to the employment agency where she stayed for one night. Ibtissam took away all her documents, including her passport and a copy of the contract Mary Grace had made for herself. In Manila, she had signed a contract agreeing to a salary of $200 per month. However, upon arrival in Beirut she was told to sign a new contract, stating her salary was $150. “They told me to sign it, but I’m thinking why is it different from the contract I read before,” she says. “I refused to sign, but they told me to sign it. I signed because I was afraid. Everything was confusing and I was scared about what would happen.”

The next day, Ibtissam took Mary Grace to her house to begin work. Her first impressions of Ibtissam were not favourable: “I am not comfortable when I first saw her. I don’t see her as friendly, she don’t even greet me in the airport. She just took me and let me ride in the car.” 

The evening of her arrival at their home, Ibtissam gave Mary Grace some food, and then sent her to her room, which she locked until the morning. “She brought me in my room and locked me [inside]. And opened the next morning,” says Mary Grace. “I sleep in my little room, on the floor with only a blanket. 

Mary Grace quickly realised that things were very wrong in the Alsaadi-AlKhatib household. “In my first month in their house, I feel uncomfortable because they are not treating me well and they always call me bad words without reason. They always call me in Arabic – stupid, khara [shit], khariye [piece of shit], behimey [a living creature without a brain]..”

Every day she was woken at 5.30am to begin work, with only coffee for breakfast, and lunch at 4.30pm. Sometimes she wasn’t given any dinner, and she worked until 11 or 12 at night. The only break she had was when she ate her lunch. “They gave me food twice a day, sometimes once. I’m taking bread because I’m hungry,” she says.

Every morning Ibtissam Alsaadi would make Lebanese coffee in separate pots for her husband Ali and for Mary Grace. This was only the beginning of what was to come for Mary Grace. She explains: “I saw her putting pink liquid into her husband’s pot of coffee. I asked what it was. She told me it’s for her husband because he has another girl from Sudan. And she cried, and asked me for sympathy.” 

Mary Grace alleges that one day Ibtissam asked her to fetch something from the living room whilst she made Mary Grace’s coffee. She turned around to see Ibtissam pouring the same pink liquid into her own coffee cup. “She gave me a cup of coffee with this liquid, same as her husband. I poured it out directly in the sink. I stopped drinking the coffee she’s giving me.” She became very afraid to drink anything, suspecting that her employer was trying to poison her. 

Ibtissam’s behaviour continued to get stranger and stranger. “The next thing, she’s telling me to scatter old ashes under the carpet, near the elevator by the front door,” says Mary Grace. One day whilst cleaning her room, Mary Grace found ashes under her own bed. Ibtissam would ask her to disperse ashes regularly under the carpet and near the elevator, adding to her already large workload. And presumably, it was yet another way to control Mary Grace and to ensure that she remained afraid, and submissive and obedient. 

“I’m still holding the trauma of those 11 months” “I’m still not healed from now. I start shaking when they open the topic about it.” – Mary Grace

In July 2006, a 34-day war began between Lebanon and Israel. The Embassy of the Philippines assembled all Filipino nationals in Lebanon at the Embassy during this time. However, Ibtissam, whose family background was Syrian, took Mary grace to Syria. They stayed there for three months. According to Ibtissam’s Facebook profile, she has three siblings who live in Damascus. 

Mary Grace’s life in Syria was harder than in Beirut. “In Syria, her house is three stories and I am cleaning it all by myself. I am cleaning her sister’s house and her son Muhammad’s house also.” She was not remunerated for all the additional work she was made to do. After the war, Ibtissam brought her back to Lebanon.

Ibtissam commits more venomous acts to control her employee

Mary Grace recounts how one day Ibtissam took her to a male hairdresser in a bizarre act of spite, under the guise that she was taking her for a regular haircut. Upon arrival, she was surprised to arrive at a men’s hair salon. The barber made her stand on a chair, and he cut her waist-long hair into a short, man’s style. “I was so sad, even in this little thing which she steal from me,” she says. Ibtissam then told her: “It’s ok, because your hair is not good and we must make [cut] it.” Back at her employer’s house, all the children began to tease her about her new haircut. She began to question why her employer was trying to hurt her and control her. “She slapped me like she want to kill me,” says Mary Grace, in tears. 

Mary Grace had limited contact with Ibtissam’s husband Ali AlKhatib. Once he asked her to prepare some food for him, but she was often told by one of the five children to avoid Ali. “Whenever he was coming, they told me, go to the balcony. I waited there, even in winter when it was freezing. I had to just wait there standing until they told me mister went away.” 

Ibtissam’s sons sexually abuse Mary Grace

Ibtissam and Ali have five children: Muhammad, Alaaddein, Kinda, Sarah and Amir. Like their mother, they abused Mary Grace to different degrees. In her testimony, Mary Grace describes her suffering at their hands.

The eldest son, Muhammad, would frequently ask Mary Grace to bring tubs of water to the bathroom while he was showering. He would be fully naked. The first time it happened, he called her back to the bathroom after she had gone to the kitchen, in shock. “I’m scared, I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what he will do to me and nobody is at home.” Kinda returned home and asked what the pot of water was for, and Mary Grace explained that Mohammad had asked her to bring the water to him while he showered.

Mary Grace says that Alaaddein, the second son, sexually and physically abused her. “Alaa is so cruel. He would ask me to find his glasses, quickly. And he would grab a wooden chair, gonna hit me [if she didn’t get them quickly enough].” Then one day, things took a turn for the worse. When the house was empty, he decided to prey on Mary Grace. “My madam, she is not around, he come out of the kitchen and he sees that nobody is in the house and he goes back to his room and shouts ‘Mary, come, bring me a glass of water.’ Then he told me to come near and lay on his bed. And he started to touch my body and told me ‘I will teach you how to make massage’. He touched my back and my private parts, and then I started to cry and I said, please, no sir.”

Mary Grace is visibly very distressed and crying as she recounts her abuse. She left the room but Alaaddein called her back in. “He told me to press his body, and he said ‘don’t ever write it down in a letter for your family in the Philippines’. After this incident, he continued to verbally abuse Mary Grace and threaten her. “He started to be cruel to me, like he wants to hit me, and he’s a very big guy. I was afraid he might hurt me or I might get paralysed,” she says. She describes how Alaaddein constantly bullied her, threw footballs at her and hit her with hangers. 

Other Filipino workers in neighbouring houses would communicate with Mary Grace by passing her notes telling her about the family and its previous workers. The notes recounted how a former employee, Norcia, was also abused by the family. They also locked her inside the house, alone, or with Alaaddein. Whilst cleaning, Mary Grace once came across Norcia’s medical papers, and saw that she had had broken joints. Mary Grace was frightened; what had happened to Norcia whilst working for the family? Her thoughts turned to suicide as a way to escape her employers. “I thought about drinking medicine to die as quickly as possible, and heal this trauma,” she says.

Mary Grace’s parents would sometimes try to call her employer’s home. She says she wasn’t allowed to contact her family and her employers didn’t send home her salary regularly. To this day, she is owed five months of her salary. She only realised after she left that her family had been writing her letters which her employers had prevented her from seeing. Mary Grace’s family had also not received any of the letters she had written them. It was yet another malicious act to ensure Mary Grace remained under their control. 

Mary Grace escapes her enslavement

Mary Grace finally managed to escape the clutches of the Alsaadi-AlKhatib family on the day they were moving apartments. It was 10am, and Ibtissam was busy talking on the phone, and Alaaddein was asleep. She tried the main door, and for once it wasn’t locked. She quickly gathered her papers, her contract and a photocopy of her passport, and left the house. “I walked down the stairs from the fourth floor, and after that I ran.”

She flagged down a taxi, and begged the driver to help her get to the Embassy of the Philippines. She told him she was being abused by her employers. “He told me, come, we will find it for you. He asked every shop where the embassy was. When I saw the flag of the Philippines, I cried because I was so happy. When I tried to pay the driver with the coins I had in my pocket, he refused, and said ‘god will give it to me.’”

Two days later, Ibtissam came to the embassy to try to get her employee back. She even went so far as to hire a Filipno woman to attempt to lure Mary Grace back, with the promise of $500, a day off every weekend, a salary increase, and a new phone and sim card. Mary Grace refused flat out. The next day, Ibtissam’s husband Ali AlKhatib came to the embassy. “He told me, come back to me, come to our house. I’ll give you food from my hands to your mouth.” When Mary Grace refused to come back with him, he told her: “Hear me, you’re a hemara (donkey) and a fool.” 

After her stay at the embassy, Mary Grace was taken to NGO Caritas. Yet again, Ibtissam attempted to get her slave back. This time she came alone. “She wanted to take me. She told me, I can let you work for another family but you need to pay me $5,000.” Mary Grace was advised by the embassy that she had two options: be deported to the Philippines, or find a new employer. She decided on the latter, and worked part time for UN workers. “They treat me well, they are helpful and kind. I work for Swiss, Croatian and Portuguese, Spanish, Irish..” 

Each time the embassy and Caritas contacted Ibtissam Alsaadi, she insisted that her former employee had to pay her $5,000 before she could release her from the contract. Mary Grace continued to work in Lebanon, and in 2013 she filed a complaint through Caritas, and was allocated a lawyer who contacted Ibtissam Alsaadi on her behalf. But Ibtissam was still asking for $5,000.

Meanwhile, Mary Grace was following the case of Halima, her successor who was enslaved and abused by Ibtissam Alsaadi and her family for a decade. She questioned why the staff of the Embassy of the Philippines had met the Alsaadi-AlKhatib family in a restaurant in Raouche, and not at the embassy.

In April 2017, Mary Grace heard that staff changes had taken place at the Embassy of the Philippines, so she decided to try her luck once more. She filed a second complaint, and requested to return home to the Philippines. Mary Grace paid a $2,200 penalty to Ibtissam Alsaadi in return for her papers. At the embassy, she says she encountered many women in similar situations to her own. “There were a lot of other runaways, same as me with different employers but nearly the same experience as me. Maltreatment, lack of food, no salary, even lack of room in the house. They’re asking also for justice.”

She ends her testimony with thanks, and a warning: “I invite you, please don’t go to Lebanon. I know there is still good employers there but I heard a lot of people who are still there and suffering. You are lucky if you survive. You need to be strong. If you still continue [to go to Lebanon], please be brave and don’t let anyone put you down. We are human and we are the ones who can stop human slavery and trafficking.

“I want justice for the Alsaadi-AlKhatib family. I want them to be in jail and be punished by law, and be banned from taking any house maid from any country. I want justice for the damage they did to me and Halima.” 

MEET THE ABUSERS

These are the abusers and those who looked onto Mary Grace’s abuse and chose to participate or help Ibtisaam Saadi cover it up.

“I’m still holding the trauma of those 11 months” – Mary Grace

FEATURED ABUSER

Ibtissam Alsaadi

Ibtissam Abdul Hamid Alsaadi

A serial abuser, slave owner and psychopath. Psychologically and physically abused her employees. Kept Halima as a slave for ten years.

Of Syrian origin, with at least three family members still in Damascus. Has tried, unsuccessfully, to run as a member of parliament in Lebanon since 2004, for the Sunni parliamentary seat in the district of Baalbek and Hermel. Ibtissam Alsaadi is known for being closely connected to Lebanon’s political elite. She has previously been photographed with President Michel Aoun, as well as high-ranking leaders of the Maronite church.

She has a degree and background in political science, and has been active in social work for the past two decades. She has previously expressed that she believes that women should participate in elections and democratic battles in order to reach their representation in the best way.

Despite her alleged extensive abuse of her own employees, Ibtissam’s name was put forward as a potential Minister for Women in the new Lebanese government, formed in early 2019.

“My career in charity work continues without greed for a high position” – from Ibtissam’s campaign poster.

“Entering the political arena should not be limited to men; men and women share all life decisions, so why not extend the sharing to political decisions, developmental work and services.”

THE REST OF THE GROUP

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Muhammad AlKhatib

The eldest son. Sexually harassed Mary Grace by exposing himself naked to her whilst in the shower, and asking her to bring him tubs of water. His former employee Teplaits, an Ethiopian national, died under suspicious circumstances whilst working for him. Halima alleges that Muhammad abused Teplaits and that she died at the hands of her employer. Muhammed allegedly brought Halima to his house so she could act as a false witness, if necessary, in the police investigation.

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Alaaddein ‘Alaa’ Alkhatib

The second son. Sexually and physically abused Mary Grace. “He told me to come near and lay on his bed. And he started to touch my body and told me ‘I will teach you how to make massage’. He touched my back and my private parts, and then I started to cry and I said, please, no sir.” Former employee Halima also alleges that he physically abused her. She says he fractured her arm when he hit her with a piece of wood.

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Amir AlKhatib

The youngest son. He sent This Is Lebanon abusive messages after we exposed the family as slave owners. “You are a big son of a bitch bc your [sic] a big fucking lieyer [sic]. I swear to god if you’re beside me right I would tear u into ashes u big lieyer [sic].” Has previously posted photos of himself on social media, depicted with guns. 

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Kinda Alkhatib

One of Ibtissam and Ali’s daughters. “She helped me contact my family twice,” says Mary Grace. “She was nice to me, but every time madam did something bad to me, she also can’t do anything.” Kinda sometimes gave Mary Grace food.

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Ali AlKhatib

Ibtissam’s husband. Mary Grace saw him infrequently. According to Mary Grace, Ibtissam told her that she was essentially estranged from her husband due to his extra marital affair with a Sudanese girl. When Mary Grace took refuge at the Embassy of the Philippines, Ali came back to try to convince her to return as a slave to the household. “Hear me, you’re a hemara (donkey) and a fool,” he told her.

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Sarah AlKhatib

Daughter of Ibtissam and Ali.

COMMENTS

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THE VIDEO

Fe explains how Bassam Abdel Hadi, owner of Monroe Hotel Beirut and Crystal Spa, cheats and denigrates his workers.

THE STORY

Loriefe (Fe) Durato was employed as a domestic worker in the home of Bassam Abdel Hadi and Reem Yacoub Abdel Hadi from 1 October 2016 to 13 August 2018, after which she fled to the Embassy of the Philippines. The Abdel Hadis own the Crystal One Spa in the four-star Monroe Hotel in downtown Beirut. In total, the Abdel Hadis owe Fe $2,000. For two years they neglected to renew her work and residence permit, which meant she could have been imprisoned at any time.

Fe contacted This Is Lebanon via Facebook in April 2019 to seek help, as she had been sent home to the Philippines with almost 6 months of unpaid salary. Three months’ worth of this had been paid to the agent, something which was declared illegal by the Ministry of Labour in 2007.

Fe was afraid, because 10 other Filipinos who had previously worked at the spa were imprisoned for 3 months. She suspected that their imprisonment was because the Abdel Hadis hadn’t renewed their work permits either, and she didn’t want to end up in prison like them.

Fe told This Is Lebanon that the Abdel Hadis often didn’t have cash, and that she herself paid for deliveries that they had ordered. The Abdel Hadis still owe Fe 10,000 LL ($7) for manoushes (a traditional Lebanese dough-based food, similar to pizza) which she’d paid for because the Abdel Hadis had no money to pay the delivery man.

Fe faced other difficulties whilst working for the Abdel Hadis. Shortly before fleeing to the embassy, Fe alleges that she found that $200 had been taken from her closet by Bassam Abdel Hadi. It had been hidden underneath her clothes. After that, she put a lock on her closet. Reem Abdel Hadi also did not provide all the personal items, such as clothing and hygiene products, she was required to under the terms of the domestic worker’s contract.

This Is Lebanon contacted Bassam Abdel Hadi via WhatsApp, requesting that he pay Fe $800 for 2 months she worked unpaid, plus $1200 for the 3 months he caused her to stay in a safe house. He responded, alleging that Fe had run away with a boyfriend and that “such a maid should be punished for what she did.” When This Is Lebanon asked him for copies of her residence permit, he refused, saying, “stop annoying me. I don’t have to show you anything.” He then blocked us.

We wrote to Reem Yacoub Abdel Hadi saying: “Your husband just made a very unwise decision. Blocking us is not going to solve your problem. It is better to talk. If you did, indeed, do her papers on time each year than you are in the right and this story can be stopped immediately. Please send us a pic of the iqama (work permit) so I can see who is telling the truth. We are giving you an opportunity to show you are right.”

Reem responded that she did “everything and more than everything that this girl needs, and that each girl that works in the house is the most lucky girl ever, and about her papers, she has only one missing year.”

After our conversation, Reem contacted Fe and said she hadn’t sent the salary because she had lost her phone with Fe’s contact details. She had promised to send the salary after Fe returned home. Fe told us that was a lie, and that Reem had seen her messages and not responded, even after she’d told her she needed the money to register her kids in school and help with her father’s hospital bill.

Nevertheless, because of Reem’s promise to put things right, we held off posting. By June 2019 there was still no payment, so we contacted Bassam from a different number. The image to the right is his response.

Fe fled to the embassy for protection; she did not run off with a boyfriend. She did not steal anything from the Abdel Hadi’s house. This is one of the most common accusations. Time and again, domestic workers who escape abusive working conditions are accused of theft and end up doing prison time when they are the victims, not the criminals.

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The Abdel Hadis have left us with no option but to post about them. May this serve as a warning to them and others who choose to keep workers undocumented. What would have happened if Fe had had an accident and required hospitalization?

Meet The Abusers

“There is 10 girls working in the spa [who] went in jail. They stayed 3 months in jail.” – Fe

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Bassam Abdel Hadi

Owner of Crystal One Spa at Monroe Hotel. Described paying the employment agency $7,000 “to bring this bitch and work at our house not to run away.”

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Reem Yacoub Abdel Hadi

After reaching out to Reem, she told Fe that “I really want to pay you” and “don’t worry about the money.” However, they seem to be false promises as she had not even renewed her work permit.

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Crystal One Spa

Owned by Bassam Abdel Hadi. You can be confident the earnings do not go towards ensuring all of his employees are paid and on current visas.

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Monroe Hotel Beirut

Host of Crystal One Spa. What do they think of their tenants?

TAKE ACTION

We can’t do this alone. We need your help! Join us in this fight.

Review on FB

Tell Monroe hotel what you think of Crystal One Spa’s owner’s treatment of domestic workers.

Review on Google

Let any potential visitors on Google know the truth about the owner of Crystal One Spa.

Contact the Abusers

Talk to Bassam and Reem and plead with them to pay their workers and treat them properly.

Share the Story

Tell others about this. Join us in the fight to ensure that this cannot go unnoticed.

COMMENTS

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We are a very low-budget Canadian nonprofit. We depend on all our donors to fight for these women, donations big and small. You can make a difference. Will you consider donating help us continue this vital work?

THE DOCUMENTARY

A story of heartache and hope.

THE STORY

False promises: “Halima, when you go home, we will give you all your salary.”

Halima Ubpah was 28 years old when she came to Lebanon in 2007 from a remote village close to Cotobato in the southern Philippines. She was employed as a domestic worker for Ali AlKhatib and Ibtissam Alsaadi, a couple who live in Ramlet el Bayda, Beirut. Ibtissam is a Lebanese women’s rights advocate; she has run for parliament multiple times since 2004. Ibtissam and her family have close connections with high-ranking politicians and officials in both Lebanon and Syria.

Halima left behind her husband, and three daughters, aged two, five and seven. With a promised monthly salary of $100, the sum that Halima was to earn would have been a fortune for her and her family, who lived in abject poverty. But instead, she ended up enslaved by Ibtissam Alsaadi for ten years.

This Is Lebanon estimates that Halima is still owed over $40,000, to cover her unpaid salary, her flights home, and compensation for her suffering. It was only after Halima’s concerned family contacted This Is Lebanon that Halima was eventually freed. But not before her slave owners went online and tried to cover up their enslavement of Halima by posting a series of lies, including false testimonies they forced Halima to provide.

“They did not want me to call my family because they thought I would tell them what they were doing to me.” – Halima

BREAKDOWN OF MONEY OWED

Years 1-2 @ $100 / mo

$2,400

Years 3-4 @ $150 / mo

$3,600

Years 5-6 @ $250 / mo

$6,000

Years 7-8 @ $300 / mo

$7,200

Years 9-10 @ $400 / mo

$9,600

Cash Instead of Annual Leave

$1,200

Pain & Suffering

$10,000

4 Return Air Tickets @ $1,229 each

$4,916

Total

$44,916

HALIMA’S DAUGHTER

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 01


INTRODUCTION

Here is her story…

When Halima arrived in Lebanon in August 2007, she managed to speak to her family once, and sent home $300 shortly after. Then her family stopped hearing from her, and Halima never sent home any money again in ten years.

 

In her video testimony, filmed by This Is Lebanon in her hometown in the Philippines, Halima recounts how she suffered ongoing physical and verbal abuse at the hands of Ibtissam Alsaadi and her children. Halima says she worked from the moment she woke up, to the minute she was locked in to her room at night.

Yes, you read that right: her employer, Ibtissam Alsaadi, would lock her into her room at night. She had no way of escaping her abusers, and she was not even allowed to use the toilet apart from when her employers allowed her to. She suffered the indignity of having to relieve herself in her room. “She thought her husband might come to me, and she is a very jealous woman,” says Halima by way of explanation. “Once I was locked in my room, I couldn’t make a sound.”

Halima escapes poverty but ends up enslaved 

Halima was, and remains to this day, entirely illiterate. Her remote, underdeveloped village is so poor that there is only one building made of concrete, belonging to a woman who previously worked in the Gulf. The rest of the houses are wooden shacks. The main export of the village is its women, who go to work in the Middle East.

02


ENSLAVED

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There is no electricity or running water, and only one house has a toilet. There is no food security where Halima is from – people live from hand to mouth. For these reasons, the women there continue to leave their families behind to try to earn a living working as housemaids in the Middle East.

The fact that Halima is illiterate is a crucial part of her story. She could not access a phone to text anyone, or even pass a handwritten note to ask for help from anyone she came across. But opportunities for contact with the outside world were scarce; she says that she was kept locked inside the house most of the time, so the people she met were far and few between.

The only way her family could contact her was by calling her employers’ house phone. Halima’s husband, Ginaid Kasem, sacrificed a great deal in trying to contact his wife. As there was no electricity in his village, he had to travel miles to the closest town to call Halima from a pay phone. With the little money he had, he would call his wife’s employers and ask to speak to her. Each time, Ibtissam Alsaadi would either keep him on hold until his phone card ran out, or tell him that Halima was unavailable.

“Sometimes they would say ‘your wife is coming’, and at other times they would answer, but not say anything,” says Ginaid. Every single time, his money would run out without him having spoken to his wife, and he would have to make the long trek home.

Halima says she spent all day, every day, cleaning up after Ibtissam Alsaadi and her family, and in return being physically and verbally abused by them. Halima was on call 24/7, she didn’t get any time off, and she suffered profound physical abuse at the hands of Ibtissam Alsaadi and her family. When she explains, it’s clear she is visibly distressed at the memory, and tears roll down her face: “My madam, for the smallest, tiniest mistake would slap me.” She points out the scars from where her employer scratched her neck with her nails.

Another time, Ibtissam Alsaadi allegedly struck Halima with a mop while Halima was cleaning the balcony. Halima’s legs are covered in scars. She recounts how once she was making coffee and she spilled some on the stove. Ibtissam told her: “Halima, why didn’t you see this? Where is your brain?” She then allegedly threw the boiling coffee over Halima, which left extensive scars on her legs.

Almost all of Halima’s nails are brown and black, badly damaged from cleaning. “They didn’t let me use gloves,” she says. “The madam told me, no, you don’t need to have gloves, because you are just a maid here.” Halima adds that Ibtissam Alsaadi would frequently threaten to kill her if she didn’t complete her tasks quickly enough.

Halima was also abused by other family members. She recounts how one of the sons, Alaaddein (Alaa), would punch her. “When Alaa ordered me to do something, he expected it to be done instantly. And if I wasn’t fast enough, he punched me and slapped me.” She alleges that once he hit her with a large piece of wood and fractured her right arm. “It got very big and swollen. I couldn’t move it. They put something on it.” [referring to a cast].

Once when Alaa was hitting Halima, Ibtissam Alsaadi’s husband Ali tried to help her. He said: “Alaa, don’t do that because Halima is like family,” explains Halima. Then Alaa asked his father: “Why? Is she your daughter? Is she family?” Ali AlKhatib told his son to leave Halima alone, and that he felt sorry for her. But the abuse continued.

In our documentary filmed in her hometown, Halima explains how her thoughts turned to dying as a means of getting out of the household: “I wanted to escape, but how could I? They always locked me in the house. I thought of committing suicide, but then I thought of my children,” she says whilst crying. Even when Halima washed the family’s cars outside on the street, her employer would watch her from a balcony above to ensure she did not run away.

 03


FAMILY MURDER

Muhammad AlKhatib’s maid dies under suspicious circumstances

To add another twist to the horrors Halima had already suffered, she told us about an Ethiopian woman, Teplaits, who had worked for Ibtissam Alsaadi’s son, Muhammad AlKhatib. Teplaits died under suspicious circumstances. Halima alleges that Muhammad took her to his house, so she could be a witness in case the police questioned him about Teplaits’ death.

“I saw Teplaits because Muhammad took me to the house. I saw the dead body on the ground. He took me there so that if the police asked about her, I could be a witness to say she had not been murdered.”

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Halima says that before Teplaits died, she had spoken to her of her suffering. “She was having a hard time taking care of the children. And her madam was bad. That’s what she told me. Her madam was always getting mad at her,” says Halima. Teplaits told her she wanted to escape because the situation was so difficult.

Before arriving at his house, Halima says that Muhammad told her Teplaits was dead. When she asked how Teplaits had died, he told her that she had jumped from the second floor. “I asked him if she was still alive. He told me ‘no, she’s dead’. I asked why he didn’t take her to the hospital, but he said it was too late, she was gone. Her skull was broken, and her legs were lacerated,” Halima recounts. 

Note how we explained earlier that Halima is entirely illiterate. After ten years in Lebanon, although she understood Arabic, she barely spoke a word. This was another key tactic used by her employers, to keep her helpless and unable to communicate with the outside world, and to exclude her from conversations. Her English was also very minimal.

She was treated like a machine, and only taught what language was necessary for her to be able to serve her slave owners. Despite their efforts to exclude her from Arabic conversations, after ten years of slavery Halima had picked up enough Arabic to understand when the family sat around the dining room table discussing whether to kill her or not. She was also able to understand when they continually told her that her husband had remarried. In fact, he remained faithful to her the whole time she was away, and never gave up hoping she was still alive.   

 04


EMBASSY MEETING

A meeting with the Embassy of the Philippines

Halima’s husband contacted This Is Lebanon in early 2017, and so we began putting pressure on Halima’s employers to pay her. They eventually agreed to a meeting with staff from the Embassy of the Philippines. It took place on 6 June 2017, at a restaurant in Raouche, between Ibtissam Alsaadi, her children, Halima, and embassy staff. 

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Before the meeting, Halima says that she was carefully instructed by her employers on what to say. When the embassy staff asked Halima if she had received her salary, she had to say yes. “My madam told me what to say, and I did whatever she told me, because if I didn’t, she said she would kill me,” says Halima. 

Meanwhile, This Is Lebanon kept putting pressure on Halima’s employers to pay her what she was owed. We did this by posting about the Alsaadi-AlKhatib family.

The eldest son Alaaddein AlKhatib responded point by point to This Is Lebanon’s accusations about his family’s treatment of Halima.

He commented on our Facebook post: 

  1. Halima is alive and not a slave, as we treat her as a family’s member, not as the website said, or wink from it.
  2. Halima is in contact with her family on a monthly basis, she usually call her father every two months and her sister that works in Saudi Arabia every month.
  3. Halima is a good person that is the reason why my parents asked her to extend the duration of the work contract with us and she accepted that, not as the website mentioned that we misbehaved with her.
  4. All of Halima’s legal papers from the General Security, the Ministry of work, and the insurance card, and even her passport had been renewed from the Philippines embassy, and issued in a right way as it should be.
  5. Halima still works with us in our home for the last ten years.
  6. We had three weeks schedule meeting that took place yesterday in Raouche area with two embassy’s staff and Halima was with us, and she was the subject of the meeting, not as the website mentioned that we had been under pressure and respond after that.
  7. Halima got half of her salaries and she saved the other half for the duration she worked with us, so when she gets back to her country will be able to open a small project.
  8. The Philippines embassy staff, asked Halima why she didn’t send her family money, and her response was, she didn’t want to spend on her husband that he got married during this period.
  9. Halima and my mom had agreed three months ago that she will travel back to her country in August this year.
  10. To show that we are transparent, we shared the embassy meetings’ pictures with a journalist asked about Halima via phone, to appear later that she works for the website that start attacking us yesterday
  11. We had done nothing break the law or the humanity rules, we always stand for the rights and the laws of every human

His points raised many questions. Yes, Halima was alive. But why did her family not know this? If she had worked as a normal domestic worker, with all the proper papers in place, why was there a need for a meeting with the embassy staff? Why had her employers not shown any proof that her salary had been paid, and that her work and residence permits were in order?

Halima’s sister, who worked in Saudi Arabia, responded saying that Halima had only ever called home once and remitted money once shortly after she had arrived in Lebanon, and that the Embassy of the Philippines had told them Halima would go home after Ramadan. Furthermore, Halima’s husband had not remarried, as attested by her siblings, children and husband.

By early July 2017, Halima had still not been released. Her family sent a video testimony pleading for her to be able to come home. Meanwhile, Halima continued to work for Ibtissam Alsaadi and her family, as they wanted her to remain to serve them during the month of Ramadan. Halima had still not been able to speak to her family.

The Alsaadi-AlKhatib family then released some photos of Halima at Ibtissam’s birthday celebration, to try to show that Halima had been treated as a family member and not a slave. In This Is Lebanon’s documentary, Halima responds: “They are liars. Because I was about to go home, they took me out to try and convince people they were good to me, but it was all pretend. Ibtissam [only ever] took me out after it was confirmed that I was going home.”

The family also released a video showing Halima – without headscarf, dressed in a tank top and shorts, despite being a conservative Muslim – waving at the camera and addressing her family, saying she was fine. In another video, supposedly at a party put on for Halima’s birthday, she is cutting a cake and the family are singing to her. Halima says it was the first time the family had shown any such gesture.

Between July 2017 until she left in early October 2017, Halima remained in the household working for her employers. In September 2017, Halima – who as we mentioned was entirely illiterate – was forced to sign an affidavit falsely stating she was paid her full salary; that her employers treated her well and took her out often, and that she didn’t transfer money home because her husband had remarried and had a child. The affidavit was also translated into Tagalog, which Halima cannot read or write.

Halima finally left Lebanon on 5 October, 2017. But not before her former slave owner could get in one last vile act. Ibtissam packed Halima’s bag for her. Halima had another bag of items which she really wanted to send home, and she paid $150 to do so. This bag never arrived. When she arrived in Manila and opened the bag Ibtissam had packed for her, she found used sanitary towels in it.

Halima was the fourth domestic worker to be enslaved by Ibtissam Alsaadi and her family. The one before Halima, Mary Grace Bongao, was sexually molested by Ibtissam and Ali’s sons. According to a relative of Ibtissam’s, who contacted us on Facebook, the worker before Mary Grace managed to escape by jumping from the balcony onto the neighbour’s balcony.

Halima was eventually freed thanks to public pressure from This Is Lebanon’s Facebook page. She suffered ten years of enslavement at the hands of Ibtissam Alsaadi. She has yet to be paid the full amount she is owed. She will never be able to make up for the ten years she missed out on her children growing up. She is left with the scars of the abuse she suffered. The Alsaadi-AlKhatib family considers themselves untouchable and above any sort of justice. Will these slave owners be brought to justice?

#JusticeForHalima #EndKafala

THE TIMELINE

12 August 2007

28-year-old Halima arrives in Lebanon from a village near Cotobato, a remote area in the southern Philippines, to work for Ali AlKhatib and Ibtissam Alsaadi. The family lives in Ramlet el Bayda, Beirut. Halima leaves behind a husband and three daughters, aged two, five and seven.

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22 August 2007

Halima’s husband Ginaid Kasem receives a call from her. After that, he never hears from his wife again. “Many, many people from inside and outside the Philippines tried to call her over the last ten years but Ibtissam Alsaadi always said “she’s not here”, “she’s out of town” – endless excuses,” says Ginaid. In the whole ten years, Halima only ever sends home $300, equivalent to a month’s salary.

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January 2017

Ginaid Kasem contacts This Is Lebanon, asking if we can help him track down his wife Halima. He hasn’t heard from her for almost a decade.

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6 June 2017

This Is Lebanon manages to track down Halima. She has been enslaved for ten years by Ibtissam Alsaadi, an aspiring politician. The Embassy of the Philippines is put in direct contact with Halima’s employers.

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Week #1 of June, 2017

Halima, her employers and two embassy staff members meet at a restaurant in Raouche. Halima is coached beforehand by Ibtissam Alsaadi on what to say when the embassy staff ask her how she is, and whether she had been paid. Halima says: “They told me ‘Halima, if they ask if you got your money, say yes.’ The staff asked me if I got money and if I was fine. I said yes, I was fine and they started talking to Alaa. I wasn’t allowed to talk further to the embassy staff. They only spoke to Ibtissam and Alaa.”

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11 June 2017

Alaaddein AlKhatib posts a series of responses online, alleging that Halima is not a slave and that she is well treated, speaks to her family often, that her papers are all in order, and that she’s been paid regularly (and is also saving money). He doesn’t provide any evidence to back up his statements – no proof of payment, no legal documents. He falsely claims that Halima didn’t want to send money back home because her husband had remarried (he had not).

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Ramadan 2017

(26 May – 24 June)

Halima has to stay to serve Ibtissam Alsaadi and her family throughout the holy month.

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2 July 2017

Halima’s family plead for her release: “We want our mom to come home. We miss our Mom. We did not see her or talk to her for ten years. We need and love our mom. Please send her back home.”

30 July 2017

Privately one of the children of the Alsaadi-AlKhatib family send This Is Lebanon threatening messages.

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July – September 2017

This Is Lebanon continues to put pressure on the family to send Halima home.

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26 September 2017

Halima, who is completely illiterate, is forced to sign an affidavit falsely stating she was paid her full salary; that her employers treated her well and took her out often, and that she didn’t transfer money home because her husband remarried and had a child. The affidavit was also translated into Tagalog, which Halima cannot read or write.

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3 October 2017

Eldest son Alaaddein AlKhatib releases a video in which Halima repeats the date after him, and states that she’s gotten all the money she is owed from Ibtissam Alsaadi, and that she will travel back to the Philippines soon.

On the same day, Halima wires home $4,500.

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5 October 2017

Halima travels back to the Philippines. Before she travels, Ibtissam Alsaadi takes Halima’s shoes and replaces them with a pair of flip flops.

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MEET THE ABUSERS

These are the abusers and those who looked onto Halima’s abuse and chose to participate or help Ibtisaam Alsaadi cover it up.

“I wanted to escape but how could I? They always locked me in.” – Halima

FEATURED ABUSER

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Ibtissam Abdul Hamid Alsaadi

A serial abuser, slave owner and psychopath. Psychologically abused her employees. Kept Halima as a slave for ten years, and Mary Grace Bongao as a slave for 11 months.

Ibtissam is of Syrian origin, with family members still in Damascus. She has tried, unsuccessfully, to run as a member of parliament in Lebanon since 2004, for the Sunni parliamentary seat in the district of Baalbek and Hermel.

She has a degree and background in political science, and has been active in social work for the past two decades. Has previously expressed that she believes that women should participate in elections and democratic battles in order to reach their representation in the best way.

Despite her alleged extensive abuse of her own employees, Ibtissam’s name was put forward as a potential Minister for Women in the new Lebanese government, formed in early 2019.

Ibtissam Alsaadi is known for being closely connected to Lebanon’s political elite. She has previously been photographed with President Michel Aoun, as well as high-ranking leaders of the Maronite church.

“My career in charity work continues without greed for a high position” – from Ibtissam’s campaign poster

“Entering the political arena should not be limited to men; men and women share all life decisions, so why not extend the sharing to political decisions, developmental work and services.” – Ibtissam Alsaadi

THE REST OF THE GROUP

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Alaaddein ‘Alaa’ AlKhatib

Ibtissam’s eldest son. Physically abused Halima. She alleges that he once broke her arm by hitting her with a piece of wood. Former employee Mary Grace Bongao alleges that he sexually harassed her by indecently exposing himself to her.

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Muhammad AlKhatib

Ibtissam and Ali’s second son. Halima alleges that his former employee Teplaits, an Ethiopian national, died under suspicious circumstances whilst working for him. Halima says that Muhammad abused Teplaits and that she died at the hands of her employer. Muhammed allegedly brought Halima to his house so she could act as a false witness, if necessary, in the police investigation.

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Amir AlKhatib

The youngest son. He sent This Is Lebanon abusive messages after we exposed the family as slave owners. “You are a big son of a bitch bc your [sic] a big fucking lieyer [sic]. I swear to god if you’re beside me right I would tear u into ashes u big lieyer [sic].”Has previously posted photos of himself on social media, depicted with guns.

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Kinda AlKhatib

Ibtissam and Ali’s daughter. According to her Facebook profile, like her brother Muhammad she enjoys horse riding at a high level.

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Ali AlKhatib

Ibtissam Alsaadi’s husband. His role in the abuse is ambiguous: Halima spoke well of him, and he tried on at least one occasion to stop his family hurting her. However, he lived with it and did not take serious steps to see it stopped. However, when previous enslaved employee Mary Grace Bongao ran away, he tried to bring her back, calling her “a donkey and a fool”.

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Sarah AlKhatib

Daughter of Ibtissam and Ali.

TAKE ACTION

We can’t do this alone. We need your help! Join us in this fight.

Contact the Abusers

Talk to Ibtissam Alsaadi and her family to plead with them to pay Halima her salary from the years in slavery.

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THE DOCUMENTARY

See Lensa tell the story of the abuse by Eleanore Couture from her hometown in Ethiopia.

THE STORY

“They smashed my head into the walls. Every hour there was some form of torture.”

Lensa Lelisa Tufa arrived in Lebanon from Ethiopia in July 2017 to work for Eleanore Ajami, a high-end fashion designer and owner of Eleanore Couture. The brand is known internationally, and its dresses have been worn by a host of high-profile celebrities, including singer Carrie Underwood and X-Men star Lana Condor.

As she states in multiple testimonies, 21-year old Lensa was abused from the very beginning of her time in Lebanon. She says she was beaten up daily by her employers who threatened that if she didn’t finish her work quickly enough, she would be beaten further.

Lensa says: “They beat me every day with an electric cable and wrapped my hair around their hands and dragged me around the room. They smashed my head into the walls. Every hour there was some form of torture.”

“As long as you are in my country, I can do what ever I want to you” – Eleanore Couture

Upon arrival, Lensa says that she spoke to her family once and then wasn’t allowed to contact them for 4 months. Her employer, Eleanore Ajami, told Lensa after six months that she had sent her salary directly to her family in Ethiopia, although she never showed her any proof of this. And because Lensa wasn’t allowed to contact her family, there was no way to verify what Eleanore was saying.

In the six months following her arrival in Lebanon, Lensa’s aunt, Ganet, who also worked in Beirut, tried to contact her via Eleanor Ajami. But each time Ganet called, Eleanore told her Lensa was too busy to talk, and not to call again. Ganet meanwhile received a call from Lensa’s mother in Ethiopia, saying she hadn’t received any money or heard any news from Lensa.

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FAMILY OF ABUSERS

The entire family were involved in the abuse of Lensa. Many people didn’t believe it because the abuser children were “educated young women.”

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Domestic Worker Abuse: A Family Affair

Lensa alleges that 4 family members abused her: Eleanore Ajami, her son Joe Khalil, and daughters Crystel Khalil and Alexis Khalil. “They took turns abusing us. In the morning Joe came, grabbed my hair and dragged me around the room. And he was pushing his fingers into my eyes. He got the scissors and was going to attack me, so I ran away from him. Every day, Crystel came after me with the scissors and tried to cut me. Her mother told her not to do that, so she stopped.”

Lensa explains that she couldn’t tell the Ethiopian Embassy about her situation because the other Ethiopian worker would tell the employer everything. That worker had been there for about 5 years and acted as an informer on Lensa and another young Ethiopian worker.

On 11 March 2018, Lensa decided to try to escape from the second-floor apartment. Her only choice was to jump off the balcony because her employers locked her into the apartment whilst they were out. She broke both legs, her pelvis, her jaw and several teeth upon impact, and was taken to Serhal Hospital where she remained for two weeks.

“They tortured me, and I couldn’t do anything to save myself.” – Lensa

Even during her time in hospital, Lensa’s communication and visitors were strictly controlled by her employers. This Is Lebanon was told by Lensa’s aunt, Ganet: “Whilst in hospital, a Lebanese woman had compassion for Lensa and brought her juice. But this led to a problem with the employers, who told the Lebanese woman not to interfere, and that she had no business giving anything to Lensa.” The woman withdrew from any contact with Lensa and asked an Ethiopian girl caring for an elderly man in the hospital to contact Lensa. Lensa managed to give the Ethiopian girl her mother’s number, who then contacted Lensa’s aunt, Ganet, on 19 March. Ganet went straight to the hospital upon hearing what had happened. Here she filmed Lensa talking about her abuse and suffering.

“The old lady filmed it on her phone for Alexis to watch on video call.” – Lensa

The Attempted Media Cover-up Begins

The video of Lensa lying in her hospital bed, covered in bandages and casts, was shared by This Is Lebanon and went viral, being picked up by international news outlets. Her aunt was allowed one closely supervised visit after her return to the house, during which members of the family were present.

Eleanore Ajami immediately responded to the media denying all allegations, and threatened to sue This Is Lebanon. On 31 March 2018, Eleanore Couture released a video of Lensa through local channel LBC. In the video, filmed in her employers’ home, Lensa retracted her earlier claims of abuse. Lensa said she loved her employers and they loved her, and that she was sorry for any problems she had caused them. She said: “Nobody hurt me, nobody kicked me.” She again recanted her allegations on Rima Karaki’s show on Al Jadeed Television in April. In a humiliating set up in the presence of one of her employers, she was wheeled in on a hospital gurney to make a similar confession.

The deputy Middle East director of Human Rights Watch, Lama Fakih, has said that in cases like Lensa’s there is a high risk of coercion, and investigations must ensure that victims can give accurate accounts of what has happened to them, in a safe location, without fear of retaliation.

“We are deeply concerned that even though Lensa said she feared retaliation and has reported death threats, investigators said they did not provide safety guarantees when they interviewed her,” Fakih has said. “Ensuring victim protection is essential for determining what happened in Lelisa’s case, and to reassure other domestic workers afraid of retaliation if they report abuse.”

A Phony Investigation

The Lebanese Internal Security Forces told Human Rights Watch that they had completed an investigation after speaking with Lensa, another migrant domestic worker in the house, the employers, two forensic doctors, and the Ethiopian Embassy, and sent their report to the prosecutor’s office. However, the Internal Security Forces said they had not provided Lensa with any guarantee of safety or protection to ensure that she was able to speak freely. “It’s the job of the embassy to provide reassurances or guarantees,” an official said.

Human Rights Watch has previously found that Lebanon’s judiciary fails to hold employers accountable for abuses and that security agencies often do not adequately investigate claims of violence or abuse. Two Ethiopian women who visited Lensa at the hospital told Human Rights Watch that Lensa said she did not tell investigators the truth because of her fear of retaliation.

An Ethiopian embassy official told Human Rights Watch it had investigated the case and concluded Lensa fell out of the apartment while cleaning, and that the abuse allegations were not true. Lebanon’s General Directorate of General Security, the agency in charge of foreigners’ entry and residency in Lebanon, also opened an investigation. It is up to the Prosecutor to decide whether to continue the investigation or file charges.

Eleanore Couture did their best to hide the story by taking out injunctions against This Is Lebanon and the other news outlets who shared Lensa’s story with the world and exposed the designers’ human rights abuses.

Due to the pressure from This Is Lebanon, the support of other activists, and the attention of Lebanese and international media outlets, Eleanore Couture sent Lensa home on 2 August 2018. She still has rods in her legs and requires ongoing medical treatment but cannot afford it. She did, however, manage to make it home alive, unlike the two domestic workers per week that are dying.

#IAmLensa #ThisIsLebanon #2PerWeek #AbolishKafala

THE TIMELINE

March 8 2016

Eleanore Couture and Crystel Khalil post on their Facebook timeline: “‘I am eternally grateful to the women before me, who fought for my rights’ #internationalwomensday #womansright #womensempowerment #HeresToEqualityForWomensWorldWide #onedayiwill #eleanorecouture”

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July 2017

Lensa begins work for the Ajami-Khalil family. She calls home once, and then her family doesn’t hear from her. She doesn’t remit any money home. She says she is physically, verbally and emotionally abused by the family. She is beaten with an electric cable, her head is smashed into walls and she is dragged by her hair. She isn’t allowed out of the house.

August – March 2018

Lensa’s aunt, Ganet, also working in Beirut as a domestic helper, tries to contact Lensa. She is repeatedly told by Eleanore Ajami that Lensa is ‘too busy’ to talk. Lensa is able to occasionally call her mother during this time, but the conversation is always closely monitored and cut. Her mother is very suspicious and tries to ask Lensa about her situation, but Lensa cannot speak freely out of fear of her abusers.

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20 February 2018

Eleanore Couture remits $291 as a result of pressure from Lensa’s employment agency.

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11 March 2018

Lensa decides to escape after Joe Khalil threatens her for not working quickly enough. Her co-worker, Bortokan, also plans to escape, but abandons this plan after Lensa jumps and breaks both legs, her pelvis, some teeth and her jaw. Lensa is immediately sent to Serhal Hospital.

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12 – 19 March 2018

A Lebanese woman notices Lensa and connects her with an Ethiopian who is in the hospital. Lensa gives the Ethiopian her mother’s phone number. She calls and the mother gives her Ganet’s number.

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19 March 2018

When Ganet hears about her niece, she goes to the hospital with other Ethiopians. She is subsequently barred from visiting. After seeing Lensa in the hospital, Ganet contacts the Ethiopian embassy for help.

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Weekend of March 23

The Ethiopian Embassy visits Lensa and Internal Security comes to investigate on orders of Appellate Public Prosecutor in Mount Lebanon, Judge Sami Sader. Ganet is finally able to secretly visit Lensa in the hospital. The hospital room door is guarded on nearly a 24 hour watch by the Ajami family, but Ganet sneaks in between their shifts in the middle of the night. They film a secret testimony.

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25 March 2018

Ganet has nearly lost hope. Caritas, the forensic doctors, the Ethiopian embassy, and the Internal Security Forces all declare that there was no abuse. In desperation, Ganet contacts This Is Lebanon and shares the video of Lensa’s testimony of abuse. This Is Lebanon puts it on Facebook and it is viewed by hundreds of thousands of people.

27 March 2018

Lensa returns to her employers’ home after doctors sign her out advising a month’s rest. Shortly after, her co-worker Bortokan is deported back to Ethiopia. To this date, no one has been able to contact Bortokan.

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29 March 2018

People around the world support the #IAmLensa campaign. Meanwhile, brave activists gather in front of Eleanore Couture’s business to protest the abuses of the Kafala system and show solidarity with Lensa.

31 March 2018

Eleanore Couture releases a video through LBC TV, filmed in their own home, in which Lensa says her employers love her and she loves them, and that she was not abused. Khalil assures viewers there was never any violence committed against Lensa.

2 April 2018

Lensa and Crystel Khalil appear on Rima Karaki’s show on Al Jadeed Television. Lensa is wheeled in on a hospital gurney, makes a confession saying she lied about the abuse, and about jumping off the balcony to escape. Rima claims that she will follow-up with Lensa to ensure she is okay. That never happened. She assures her viewers Lensa will be safe. Prior to the filming of this show, This Is Lebanon presents Al Jadeed with a testimony from Lensa’s family affirming the abuse. Lensa is not given equal representation on the show nor is she offered an interpreter. Her live presence in a hospital bed is humiliating and dehumanising. Meanwhile, she is in fear for her life and the lives of family members in Lebanon and in Ethiopia.

3 April 2018

This Is Lebanon publishes Ganet’s testimony about Lensa’s treatment at Eleanore Couture. She confirms: “They [Eleanore Couture] are lying…they are threatening her.”

4 April 2018

Eleanore Couture remits a further $450 to Lensa’s family. This is contrary to General Security’s report that “[Lensa] has been living in her sponsor’s house for the past seven months, receives her monthly stipend and has not been a victim of ill-treatment.” This brings it to a total of $741 for 9 months’ work, averaging a salary of $82.30 per month.

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5 April 2018

Many fake Facebook profiles begin making a flurry of negative comments on the This Is Lebanon’s Facebook page and in defense of Eleanore Couture. They claim to not be members of the family, but concerned Lebanese citizens.

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Mid-April 2018

The Ajami-Khalil family attempt a variety of other ways to make the story disappear. Leneila Khalil (sister-in-law living in Australia), who previously ran the social media of Eleanore Couture, promotes a theory that “[Lensa] tried to jump because she didn’t want to work as a maid any more.” She also promotes another story that Eleanore Couture would fly Lensa back home on 12 May 2018, when she was expected to be “medically fit.”

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12 April 2018

Lensa is assigned Eleanore Ajami’s own attorney, Elias Ghanem, against her will. She is forced to sign legal documents and go to police stations denying any abuse ever happened. The office of attorneys-at-law, Elias Ghanem, Reine Atallah and Pauline Naddaf, file a petition to the Baabda judiciary to have the material about Lensa and Eleanore Couture removed from all places on the web, including Human Rights Watch, Legal Agenda, L’ Orient Le Jour and many more.

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17 April 2018

Lensa’s mother makes a desperate plea for Eleanore Couture to send Lensa home. She says: “Her employer had told her that all we want is money, and that she would kill her and send her corpse back home.”

20 April 2018

Lebanese state closes inquiry into Lensa’s case, concluding that Lensa is not a victim of abuse.

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15 May 2018

Christelle Hanna Khalil (Crystel Khalil) and Alexis Hanna Khalil lodge a complaint to the General Prosecutor at the Supreme Court in Lebanon against thisislebanon.org.

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5 June 2018

The Ajamis-Khalils commit a string of perjuries by making false reports under the name of their own victim (Lensa) through the U.S. DMCA law in order to remove the video content of Lensa’s testimony. They take actions such as creating false email addresses and social media accounts in Lensa’s name to make their requests appear more legitimate. In one of the earlier requests, they accidentally put Crystel Khalil’s own phone number (+9613999172).

June 2018

Timo Azhari, The Daily Star journalist, is summoned by the Lebanese Cyber Crimes Bureau and spends 8 hours there. His phone is searched, confidential information from an anonymous source is seized, and he is made to delete his tweets. He is asked to sign a pledge not to speak about the case again, but refuses.

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19 June 2018

Judge Hatoum of the Baabda district court grants the request for removal of all photos, videos or comments relating to Lensa’s employers’ treatment of her on all social media, websites and news channels in Lebanon and abroad, on the grounds that “her reputation and her personal dignity and exceeding the limits of transferring news impartially.”

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2 July 2018

Director-General of the Internal Security Forces, Major General Imad Osman, sends a request to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police via Interpol regarding a defamation case. He asks for the Canadian police to “interrogate the owner…for defamation” and to “take a pledge that he would not attack the plaintiffs again by any means.”

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28 July 2018

Under pressure, Rima Karaki makes a public statement regarding her show with Lensa. She has still not visited Lensa. In her defense she claims: “We were the most human and caring show that helped people on and off air without bragging about it.”

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Week of 30 July 2018

Lensa’s aunt, Ganet, goes to the Ethiopian Embassy and fights for Lensa to be freed. The Ethiopian community pressures the embassy to force Eleanore Couture to bring Lensa into the embassy so Ganet can speak to her.

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2 August 2018

In the middle of the night, Eleanore Couture puts Lensa on a plane back to Ethiopia. Lensa’s family is notified so late that Lensa’s mother is not able to make it to the airport in time to meet her daughter. Eleanore Couture sends Lensa home with the rest of her salary in an attempt to wipe their hands clean of the event.

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August – October 2018

Lensa is home but she is afraid to talk about what happened due to threats against her family by Eleanore Couture. Before she leaves, they tell Lensa that if she says anything that could ruin their reputation, they will have her family in Ethiopia arrested and Ganet will be arrested in Lebanon and bad things will happen to her.

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11 November 2018

Timo Azhari, journalist at The Daily Star, goes to court for charges of defamation filed against him by Prosecutor Rami Abdallah regarding Eleanore Couture.

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20

April 2019

Lensa signs an affidavit stating the following:

  1. I was enslaved by Eleanore Ajami and Crystel Khalil, hereafter referred to as Eleanore Couture, and forced to act against my will.
  2. Eleanore Couture created fake email accounts and social media profiles using my name, pictures and personal information.
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25 May 2019

This Is Lebanon breaks silence on Lensa’s release and announces the upcoming release of a documentary. This information has not been released earlier due to security and legal concerns.

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30 May 2019

This Is Lebanon releases a documentary about Lensa’s story from slavery to freedom.

Present

Lensa still has ongoing medical issues from her abuse and injuries sustained while working for Eleanore Couture. She is unable to pay for her medical treatment.

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What will Eleanore Couture do next?

Will those complicit in her abuse and enslavement continue to perpetuate their lies in order to save face?

Meet The Abusers

These are the abusers and those who looked onto Lensa’s abuse and chose to help Eleanore Couture cover it up.

“I have experienced a lot of abuse. Nobody sees me and nobody helps me.” – Lensa

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Eleanore Ajami

Founder and owner of Eleanore Couture. Sponsor of Lensa’s employment. Lensa testifies, “the old lady filmed it on her phone for Alexis to watch on video call.”

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Crystel Khalil

“Every day Crystel came after me with the scissors and tried to cut me.” Then Crystel wheeled Lensa on a stretcher into the Al Jadeed studio in order to humiliate her in a false confession.

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Alexis Khalil

Alexis Khalil gave public assurances that all was good with Lensa and she was in great hands. Unfortunately the opposite was true.

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Joe Khalil

“In the morning he came and grabbed my hair, and dragged me round the room. And he was pushing his fingers into my eyes…Every day, he was planning how to attack me.”

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Leneila Khalil

Far away in Melbourne, Australia, Leneila hadn’t received the family memo on what to say. Her theory was that Lensa “tried to jump because she didn’t want to work as a maid any more.”

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Major General Imad Osman

The Director-General of Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces “received several certificates most notably being in…the fight against cyber crimes.” Evidently his job description also includes: unsuccessfully attempting to do Eleanore Couture’s bidding.

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Judge Hatoum

The not-so-honourable Baabda district judge was happy to comply with Eleanore Couture’s request to sign a court order demanding the removal of all evidence from the public forum.

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Ethiopian Embassy

Ganet hoped her embassy which is “responsible for [the] Ethiopian Diaspora who are living in Lebanon” would help Lensa. Instead, they turned their backs and spoke out siding with the abusers.

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Rima Karaki

Rima brought Lensa onto her show to humiliate her on pan-Arab television. In her own defense for her actions, she made a public statement: “We were the most human and caring show that helped people on and off the air without bragging about it.”

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Caritas

Self described as seeking to “ensure that migrants’ rights are respected.” Unfortunately they appear to be ignorant of how to actually do this. They failed to remove her from her abusers for the interview – “Helping Domestic Workers 101.”

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Internal Security Forces

Claiming to aim at “countering trafficking, and honoring Lebanon’s obligations towards international resolutions” from top to bottom, they served as pawns of Eleanore Couture’s desperate attempt to hide the story.

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Al Jadeed

Al Jadeed TV is one of the most watched broadcasters in Lebanon and in the entire Arab world, and despite the testimony of Lensa and her family, they decided to spend their airtime in assisting with Crystel’s cover-up campaign.

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Elias Ghanem

He somehow represented both Eleanore Ajami and Lensa Tufa at the same time. He kept himself very busy taking their money in order to use the courts to cover up the story.

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Forensic Doctors

Forensic doctors visited Lensa in Serhal Hospital and concluded there was no evidence of abuse. This conclusion is hardly surprising given that they never find evidence of abuse when migrant domestic workers die in Lebanon.

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LBC TV

The Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International, widely known as LBCI, is the first private television station in Lebanon. They were personally moved when Crystel told them that she asked Lensa: “Do we hit and abuse you?” and Lensa said “no!”

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