Destitute Kenyans protest in Beirut for fourth day

Want to be evacuated, say they are penniless and mistreated by Kenya's Lebanese-run consulate

In Summary
  • Kenyans say Kuwait Embassy that handles Kenya's interets in the region has been 'covering' for the consulate in Beirut and misleading the Foreign Ministry in Nairobi.
  • They claim the consulate has failed to help Kenyans and mistreated them. One woman claimed she was told to prostitute herself to earn airfare home.

Hundreds of Kenyans protested again in Beirut, Lebanon, on Thursday, demanding flights home and saying they were being exploited and mistreated by the Kenya's Lebanese-run consulate.

They said they cannot afford the Sh40,000 for a ticket to Nairobi, as money is virtually worthless and many have lost everything. One  woman told the Star she was told by consular staff to consider prostitution to earn airfare home.

It was the fourth day of major protests after the explosion on Tuesday last week of  2,700 tons of  fertiliser stored unsafely at the port. More than 220 people were killed, thousands injured and thousands more displaced.

Vast areas were flattened. At least 1,100 Kenyans officially work in Lebanon, many as househelp. Foreign Ministry PS Macharia Kamau referred the Star to the Communications division, saying it would issue a statement.

Demonstrators demanded that three Lebanese who run the Kenyan consulate in Beirut be fired for not taking care of Kenyans. The Kenyan embassy for the region is in Kuwait.

Teresia Wambui, who has lived in Lebanon for 11 years, said she has never met a Kenyan who has been helped  by the consulate.

“We are calling on the Kenyan government first to fire the Lebanese nationals who are working at the consulate since they have been abusing us, extorting us and not helping us,” she told the Star on the phone on Thursday.

She has been camping at the consulate with her seven-month-old child.

“We also call on the government to evacuate us since we can't afford to buy tickets. Money has depreciated after the explosion," she said.

The protesters told the Star on the phone they have lost jobs because of the Covid-19 pandemic and explosion that left thousands more people jobless. 

“We were thrown out of our houses by our bosses. We are jobless and have no place to eat or sleep,” Sharon, who gave only one name for security reasons, told the Star on the phone. 

Lebanon has been badly affected by Covid-19, which has claimed dozens of lives and further damaged the struggling economy.

“If they are standing at all, houses here have no doors or windows. The economy is bad and our employers can’t afford to pay us. The consulate worships money. They have insulted us and the government must fire them,” one protester told the Star.

Some said consular officials have charged them exorbitant prices for services.

“The Kuwait Embassy [that is responsible for the region] has always protected and covered up for the Kenyan consulate in Lebanon. It is public knowledge that Kenyans have been abused, not attended to and our dignity reduced to nothing by the Beirut consulate,” Wambui said.

The protesters said the staff at the Kenyan consulate in Lebanon are not Kenyans and have failed to respect and serve Kenyans.

“They are rude and don’t respect us. The only Kenyan who worked at the consulate was fired,” another Kenyn, who had been a domestic worker, said.

“Imagine they told us to consider prostitution so that we get cash to go back home. We feel degrade," she said.

They said that they were sleeping on the roads since they could not raise Sh40, 000 for a ticket home.

“We are now sleeping on roads and our only hope is to be taken back home. We have nothing to eat and the only place we can call home is Kenya,” another protester said.

Protester Mercy Mukiza  said she was assaulted at the consulate and had given up on the Kenyan consulate.

“I have been in Lebanon for a long time and I can assure you that nothing good will come from that consulate unless the government intervenes,” she said.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is reluctant to act because its embassy in Kuwait is covering p for] the consulate."

A CNN exclusive narrated how Kenyans were exploited by their consulate.

(Edited by V. Graham)