BILEH JELAN @BILEHJELAN &ZECHARIAS ZELALEM @ZEKUZELALEM
Addis Abeba, May 14/2020 – Despite denial from Ethiopia’s consulate in Beirut, Lebanon that there were no Ethiopians who tested positive for COVID-19, data posted on the official website of the Lebanese Ministry of Health currently lists that out of a total of 886 confirmed cases nationwide, eight of them are Ethiopian nationals.
Just under 7% of total cases in Lebanon are foreign nationals. The website, designated solely for accumulating data on the outbreak in Lebanon, is backed up with an assortment of graphs and charts indicating Lebanon’s cases by district, age and nationality. The website also lists Ethiopians as currently being the most pandemic afflicted among foreign nationals in Lebanon.
This is in sharp contrast with the statements from Ethiopia’s top diplomat in Lebanon, Consul Aklilu Tatere Wube, who has been queried on the topic of the wellbeing of the large Ethiopian community in Lebanon in recent days. In interviews given to the Voice of America on Friday May 08, and to the BBC on May 13, Consul Aklilu stated that there were no confirmed COVID -19 cases among Ethiopians in Lebanon.
“Thank God not a single one of our citizens has died or has been infected,” Consul Aklilu told the VOA’s Amharic language service. “I’m in daily contact with the Lebanese government and Health Ministry on WhatsApp. We receive updates and in case anything happens, we have hotline numbers and have been notified of where victims are to be treated.”
But the top diplomat’s statement appears to be misleading, according to the latest data published on the Lebanese Ministry of Public Health’s coronavirus observatory webpage. This screengrab contains updated data in Arabic and remains current as of the publishing of this news. The data lists six Palestinians and four Syrians among the confirmed cases in Lebanon, alongside the eight Ethiopians.
Since the pandemic and Lebanon’s economic meltdown which preceded the country’s outbreak by about five months, Ethiopians in the country, the near entirety of whom are women working as domestic workers, have suffered greatly. Countless have been laid off and with foreign currency being scarce and the local Lebanese pound currency losing over half of its value in recent months. Many of those working as live-in maids, are being forced to work without salaries. Unemployed domestic workers on their own risk going hungry or being evicted from their homes, unable to pay the rent.
Despite denying that that there are Ethiopians who contracted the deadly virus, Consul Aklilu Tatere Wube admits that Ethiopians in Lebanon will face countless challenges ahead and stated that his office was doing what it could to ease things for its most vulnerable citizens. But he was adamant in his conversation with the BBC’s Amharic that any reports of Ethiopian cases of coronavirus were just rumors. “We heard a report that there had been two Ethiopians who caught the virus,” Ethiopia’s de facto ambassador to Lebanon said, “however, after we mobilized and took action to verify facts, we found out that the report was false.”
However the publicly available data disproves the Consul. The archived versions of the Lebanese Ministry of Public Health’s pandemic watch website reveal that Lebanon had confirmed two Ethiopian citizens as having caught the virus as far back as March 26th. The consulate’s leading diplomat claim that he receives regular notices from Lebanese authorities is impossible to ascertain, but his statement that no Ethiopian residents in Lebanon have caught the virus is untrue.
The first known cases of Ethiopian citizens who caught the coronavirus were confirmed sometime between March 23rd and March 26th, over a month and a half ago, facts that call the Consul’s statement in to question on whether his office is making the effort he claims it is.
Consul Aklilu is also assertive that for undocumented Ethiopian migrants who would seek treatment after developing the symptoms, his office was ready to prepare emergency documentation that would enable them to seek treatment. Lebanese hospitals had been reported as refusing to accommodate patients without residency papers. Many Ethiopian domestic workers have their passports taken away by abusive employers, something enabled by that country’s maintaining of the kafala system.
However, undocumented Ethiopians told Al Jazeera that no such services were offered to them. In a recent report, Ethiopian women in Lebanon described being rejected at hospitals and having nowhere else to turn to. The Ethiopian consulate in Beirut announced on March 30th that it had closed its doors and stopped offering services in adherence with the Lebanese government’s nationwide lockdown. It’s unclear how the Ethiopians in Lebanon would have been able to access the assistance the consulate claims to have provided.
With thousands of Ethiopians in Lebanon undocumented and thus ineligible for treatment at most hospitals, the likelihood is that publicly available data on confirmed Ethiopian cases, is not exhaustive. As for the known eight cases, there doesn’t appear to be any data describing their current status.
After a recent loosening of restrictions in Lebanon led to a spike in COVID-19 cases, the Lebanese government announced it would reinstate a nationwide lockdown that would last until the coming May 18. The country’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab blames the upsurge on “the negligence of citizens.”
For Ethiopians, this means more hardships, according to one woman who asked not to be named. A resident of Beirut and undocumented for the last five years, she says that Lebanon’s shops have run out of some food items and what is available is almost double the cost.“I don’t know how much longer I can endure this. If even Europe couldn’t stop the virus, we are in real trouble here in Lebanon,” she told Addis Standard. AS