They said my madam had accused me of trying to run away. Then they took me to jail. I was locked up in one room with 40 others.
Opeyemi Olaitan, a Nigerian woman who went to Lebanon to be a domestic worker, has recounted how she was arrested by the Lebanese authorities at the airport on her way to Nigeria after her boss dumped her at the Nigerian embassy.
Olaitan, in an interview with SaharaReporters, said her employer, who terminated her two-year contract after one year, made up charges against her which resulted in her arrest by the Lebanese authorities as she was about to board an evacuation flight to Nigeria in July.
“My madam took me to the Nigerian embassy on July 21. They arrested me on July 24. I only came out last month,” Olaitan said.
“They stopped me from boarding,” she continued. “They said my madam had accused me of trying to run away. Then they took me to jail. I was locked up in one room with 40 others.”
While in detention, she said she met three other Nigerians whom she shared a room with, along with other detainees from different nationalities.
But as she waited for a court appearance to face whatever accusations her employer levelled against her, she spent one month in the cell without being charged for any crimes.
“When they brought her [her boss] to testify, she could not say what I did,” Olaitan said. “They had to release me. Till today, I don’t know why she got me arrested. Yet she owes me two months’ pay.”
During her detention, she said she was fed with the Lebanese local bread diet twice a day and was rarely given drinking water.
She said the detention facility was too small to comfortably accommodate all the detainees despite each detainee having their mattress.
Olaitan’s journey to Lebanon began after she read an online job advert and met someone who promised her a job in the country. Then the agent convinced her dad that she would get a job in a mall.
“The guy said I would work in a mall or an office. I didn’t know I was going to become a maid until I arrived there,” she said.
“I found out when a woman came to pick me from the agency’s office and told me that she bought me. I tried to tell the agent that I want to return home. He told me I had to pay back the money spent on my travel papers before he blocked me.”
Olaitan’s return to Nigeria was partly facilitated by organisations like Hopes Haven Foundation and the Oyo State government which have intensified effort to ensure that the Lebanese authorities work with the Nigerian embassy in Beirut to repatriate many stranded Nigerian women.
The women were lured to the country for high paying jobs but ended up becoming domestic workers where they were abused and maltreated by their employers.