Migrants in Lebanon seek to break stereotypes with new radio show

Migrant workers in Lebanon and much of the Middle East work under the kafala sponsorship system. (AFP)
Updated 18 July 2018
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Migrants in Lebanon seek to break stereotypes with new radio show

  • Migrant domestic workers can be treated like they are invisible, and this radio show can change the way they are perceived by illustrating and highlighting the multi-faceted dimensions of their identities and lives
  • Projects like the Lebanese radio program could be used across the region to change attitudes toward migrants

BEIRUT: Since arriving in Lebanon, Sudanese migrant worker Abdallah Afandi has been turned away from beach resorts, mistaken for a cleaner and prevented from renting an apartment — all because of the color of his skin.
Now he is hoping to challenge the “racism and prejudice” he says he has encountered by taking part in Lebanon’s first radio show to be hosted and produced by migrants from countries such as Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and the Philippines.
The aim is to give Lebanese people a greater understanding about where migrants come from to create the tolerance and respect that local migrant rights groups say is lacking.
“Many Lebanese see Sudanese only as cleaners and workers — we want them to see us in a different way,” Afandi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The 27-year-old came to Lebanon seven years ago when he no longer felt safe in his home of Darfur in western Sudan, where conflict had raged since 2003.
He now earns a living preparing food in a restaurant and doing maintenance work in a Beirut residential building.
Afandi’s episode is one of a series airing on Voice of Lebanon, a popular independent radio station, featuring migrants talking about their own food and culture as well as the issues they face in Lebanon.
In it, he and two other Sudanese migrants discuss their country’s pyramids and interview Sudan’s ambassador to Lebanon on migrant rights.
“I want to use my voice so that people in Lebanon understand where I come from, my culture, music, food — so they will look beyond what I do for a living, and the color of my skin,” he said.
KAFALA
Migrant workers in Lebanon and much of the Middle East work under the kafala sponsorship system, which binds them to one employer.
Rights groups have blamed the system for abuse of migrant workers and say it leaves them vulnerable to exploitation by denying them the ability to travel or change jobs.
Race is also a factor — last month two Kenyan women migrant workers suffered an attack that Lebanon’s justice minister condemned as “shocking” and “abhorrently racist” after footage of them being beaten was circulated on social media.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) said projects like the Lebanese radio program could be used across the region to change attitudes toward migrants.
“This radio show is a brilliant example to be replicated across the region, and to bring attention to stories ‘by migrants’,” said spokeswoman Farah Sater Ferraton.

’NOT FOREIGN’
The show — whose name “Msh gharib” means “not foreign” in Arabic — has been in the works since 2017 and was created by the Anti-Racism Movement, a local non-government organization, with the help of migrants from the community center it runs.
“The title of the show really communicates its purpose — migrants are not ‘the other’. Their voices and stories shouldn’t be ‘foreign’ to Lebanese,” said Laure Makarem, spokeswoman for the center.
“Migrant domestic workers can be treated like they are invisible, and this radio show can change the way they are perceived by illustrating and highlighting the multi-faceted dimensions of their identities and lives.”
The 15 episodes will air in the next few months and are mainly in Arabic, with small sections in the hosts’ native language — particularly when talking about their rights in Lebanon.
Tarikwa Bekele, a 33-year-old domestic worker, is working on one episode with fellow Ethiopians, who make up the biggest migrant group in Lebanon at more than 100,000 people.
They are planning to talk about Ethiopian traditions, famous athletes and a famous model in the hope of showing Lebanese that Ethiopians are not “just working in houses and cleaning bathrooms,” said Bekele.
“There are so many Ethiopians working in Lebanon,” said Bekele. “Once they can see that we are like them — like any other country — I think they will treat us better. Treat us with respect.”

Funding for this story was supported by a fellowship run by the International Labour Organization and the Ethical Journalism Network.


Pastor talks of breakdown in Turkey, but also of forgiveness

Trump was insistent on Brunson’s release without conditions. (AP)
Updated 21 October 2018
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Pastor talks of breakdown in Turkey, but also of forgiveness

  • Brunson was accused of links to Kurdish militants and a US-based Muslim cleric whom Turkey blames for a failed coup in 2016

VIRGINIA BEACH: The American pastor recently released after two years of confinement in Turkey said on Friday that he suffered a breakdown during his time in prison and was put on anti-anxiety medication.
Andrew Brunson said he was deprived of books — even a Bible — for long stretches of time. For eight months, he spent 24 hours a day with more than 20 men in a cell designed for eight.
But the worst of it, he said, was the uncertainty. The pastor who had led a small congregation faced the possibility of life in a Turkish prison if convicted on charges of terrorism and related counts, accusations he still calls “ridiculous.”
“I didn’t do very well,” Brunson said of living in the crowded prison cell. “It was very high stress, and I was sleeping three to four hours maximum a day. And I was really struggling a great deal. I didn’t know how long this would continue. I didn’t know why I was in prison.”
He added: “I really had a breakdown emotionally. And I received medication for anxiety because I was just a basket case.”
Sitting next to his wife, Norine, Brunson spoke inside the Virginia Beach headquarters of the Christian Broadcasting Network after an interview on “The 700 Club,” among other CBN shows. The network closely followed his ordeal, which became a cause celebre for evangelical Christians as well as President Donald Trump.
Earlier this month, Brunson was convicted in Turkey and sentenced to more than three years in prison. But he was freed and allowed to leave for the two years he had already spent in custody. For the past few months, he had been on house arrest.
Brunson was accused of links to Kurdish militants and a US-based Muslim cleric whom Turkey blames for a failed coup in 2016.
Upon his return, Brunson, 50, visited the White House and placed his hand on Trump’s shoulder in prayer before asking God to provide the president “supernatural wisdom to accomplish all the plans you have for this country and for him.”
Trump was insistent on Brunson’s release without conditions. And the president maintained there was no deal for Brunson’s freedom.
Brunson said on Friday that he was unaware of any deals. And he pointed out that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had previously suggested trading Brunson for Pennsylvania-based Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who is accused by Turkey of engineering a failed coup in 2016. The swap was never made.
The Brunsons, who spent 25 years in Turkey, said they still love the country but cannot return any time soon. They said they do not know what is next, but they view their ordeal as part of God’s plan.
“We haven’t done anything great,” Brunson said. “But for so many people in so many countries to be praying for us, this is something that God did. It was not just to bless me. He’s using that to bless Turkey.”
In the meantime, the couple is still recovering from the past two years, which included Norine Brunson’s arrest with her husband and the two weeks she spent with him in prison.
She was released and allowed to stay in the country while he was shipped around to various prisons. Their children, then ages 15, 18 and 21, were in the US and have remained there.
The Brunsons said they still do not know why the Turkish government made its accusations. Their missionary work was legal and out in the open for more than two decades.
But they said they were American Christians, who are viewed with suspicion in Turkey. And they were there after the failed coup.
Brunson said Turkish authorities never offered any proof to support the charges — no emails, no social media postings or recordings.
But people the Brunsons had known testified against him. It is something the pastor is still processing.
“It’s not an option not to forgive; we are required to as Christians,” Brunson said. “Is it easy? No. But God forgave me. As I get emotions that come back, I say, ‘I forgive.’”