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Ethiopian slave freed from Paris hotel

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 21 Sep 2012 18:51 GMT
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*Police rescue young Ethiopian from domestic slavery in Parisian 4-star hotel

*Young woman reported physical and verbal abuse from Dubai-based employers

 By Lisa Anderson

NEW YORK (TrustLaw)—Tipped off by concerned hotel employees, French police rescued a young Ethiopian woman from alleged domestic slavery and repeated physical and verbal abuse at the hands of a Dubai family vacationing at a four-star Paris hotel.  

According to a report in the Paris daily newspaper Liberation, the incident took place in mid-July, when the family—parents, eight children and the Ethiopian maid—had checked into the Hotel Concorde Opera for an extended stay.

The 24-year-old maid, identified only as Z, confided in an Ethiopian chamber maid working at the hotel that she was desperate to escape from her employers, who had not paid her for the 18 months since she worked for them and had confiscated her passport.

According to the police report viewed by Liberation, the young woman exhibited bruises on her forearms and told police a story that is not uncommon in the world of modern slavery.  She said that after the death of her mother, an uncle took her to the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa where he made her sign up with an employment agency.

In January 2011, Z was sent to Dubai as a domestic servant for the family accused of abusing her.  There, she said she worked long days and nights and was regularly kicked, hit, slapped, insulted and threatened by members of the family.

She said one child routinely threatened her that if the household work was poorly done, “You will never return to Ethiopia. I’ll cut your throat.”

After hearing the story from the Ethiopian chamber maid, hotel union representatives contacted the Committee Against Modern Slavery and the Women’s Association United, two women’s rights groups,  who alerted French authorities.

Around 11 p.m. on the night of July 13, when the family arrived back at the hotel from an evening out, police met them, removed Z and recovered her passport from the family.

The family left Paris the next day for Dubai.  A criminal complaint is being prepared against them by the women’s rights agencies, the paper said.

Claude Rath, the director of the Concorde Opera hotel, reportedly reproached employees for not first advising him of the situation and for endangering the hotel’s business by their actions.

Christine Laurent, a member of Women’s Association United, said the hotel workers feared that if they told their boss, he might try to avoid “making waves” by warning the guests to leave before police could take action.  A union official said the same thing.

The young woman Z currently is living in a safe house maintained by the Committee Against Modern Slavery, where she is recovering from her “nightmare,” said committee president Sylvie O’Dy.

She noted that Z’s habit of complete submission is so deeply ingrained that when members of the women’s rights groups visit her, Z automatically tries to carry their bags and clears the table.

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