This piece is an account written by Wanja Kimani who helped support Catherine Ranji, a migrant domestic worker in Lebanon.
June 19, 2023 update: Good news! Catherine will finally reach her home country this week.
Catherine Wanjiru Ranji is a 25-year-old Kenyan who hails from Karibaribi in Gatundu North, Kiambu County. She is currently stranded in Beirut, Lebanon. She first reached out to me in August 2022 while looking for assistance to return home. She had worked in Lebanon as a domestic worker for some time until she fell out with her madam over unpaid wages. The office, too, kicked her out to the streets and retained her salary.
Being a Kenyan myself, I had been tagged in a Facebook post whereby Catherine had confided in a mutual friend about her predicament. She had asked for her identity to be concealed. I offered to help.
I first referred her to a contact at UN-IOM. IOM has helped several women that I have previously referred, so I was confident Catherine would get the help she needed. She was registered and asked to wait. “They never told me for what, where or how long I was to wait,” laments Catherine.
Having not heard from her in months, I forgot about her. She sent me a message in November 2022 saying that she had been working and staying with other Kenyans. I requested her to reach out to IOM and give them an update. She was told that there are procedures to be followed, and she had to wait. I did not hear from her again, and I was desperate!
In late January, she sent me a message on WhatsApp with a new number. I asked her to do her best to stay in touch, because losing her all the time made it hard to follow through with the efforts to bring her back home. She told me that she had to put up with a lot to survive in the streets; she needed rehabilitation.
When I reached out to the Kenyan Consulate in Beirut regarding Catherine’s case, I was advised that she needed clearance from General Security, a process that takes not less than two months. Two months, in the streets, in a foreign country.
She was hosted by a friend for some time, but when the friend and the boyfriend got into an altercation, Catherine had to leave. The situation worsened during the Turkey-Syria earthquake. “The earthquake is scaring me! I hope I make it out alive,” was the last message she sent me with that number. She had been spending her nights under the staircase of a building.
Wandering in the cold, dark streets of Beirut– hungry, tired, scared, in the midst of earth tremors– she opted to return to the office. She had lost her phone. Even though she could have been harassed at the office, she felt it would be warmer than the streets. Also, she would borrow a phone to contact me.
Still waiting for support
Upon following up with IOM, she was told that if the consulate is working on her case then IOM cannot interfere. I advised that she confirm with the consulate; they said since her case was reported on March 20 she will have to wait another three months to travel in June.
The only thing Catherine likes about staying in the office is the privilege to remain connected. At one point she was taken to work but was not paid a dime, despite the thorough cleaning she had to do. The madam had dismissed her shortly after Catherine had finished all the work allocated to her. Madam said she did not like her. This has been the occurrence– being taken for work only to be mistreated, until sometimes she has to run for her life. “This other madam I worked for her for 5 days. She really mistreated me until I ran off, but she caught up with me and brought me back to the office,” explains Catherine.
Over seven months down the line since she first contacted IOM and the consulate, she continues to wait in the office; with no regular meals, no toiletries, no rehab, and no hopes of returning home.