Halima: 10 Years in Slavery to Ibtissam Alsaadi
Halima was a slave for Ibtissam Saade for 10 whole years – not a single phone call to her husband and three young daughters. Constant physical and verbal abuse.
A story of heartache and hope.
False promises: “Halima, when you go home, we will give you all your salary.”
Halima Ubpah was 28 years old when she came to Lebanon in 2007 from a remote village close to Cotobato in the southern Philippines. She was employed as a domestic worker for Ali AlKhatib and Ibtissam Alsaadi, a couple who live in Ramlet el Bayda, Beirut. Ibtissam is a Lebanese women’s rights advocate; she has run for parliament multiple times since 2004. Ibtissam and her family have close connections with high-ranking politicians and officials in both Lebanon and Syria.
Halima left behind her husband, and three daughters, aged two, five and seven. With a promised monthly salary of $100, the sum that Halima was to earn would have been a fortune for her and her family, who lived in abject poverty. But instead, she ended up enslaved by Ibtissam Alsaadi for ten years.
This Is Lebanon estimates that Halima is still owed over $40,000, to cover her unpaid salary, her flights home, and compensation for her suffering. It was only after Halima’s concerned family contacted This Is Lebanon that Halima was eventually freed. But not before her slave owners went online and tried to cover up their enslavement of Halima by posting a series of lies, including false testimonies they forced Halima to provide.
“They did not want me to call my family because they thought I would tell them what they were doing to me.” – Halima
BREAKDOWN OF MONEY OWED
Years 1-2 @ $100 / mo
Years 3-4 @ $150 / mo
Years 5-6 @ $250 / mo
Years 7-8 @ $300 / mo
Years 9-10 @ $400 / mo
Cash Instead of Annual Leave
Pain & Suffering
4 Return Air Tickets @ $1,229 each
Here is her story…
When Halima arrived in Lebanon in August 2007, she managed to speak to her family once, and sent home $300 shortly after. Then her family stopped hearing from her, and Halima never sent home any money again in ten years.
In her video testimony, filmed by This Is Lebanon in her hometown in the Philippines, Halima recounts how she suffered ongoing physical and verbal abuse at the hands of Ibtissam Alsaadi and her children. Halima says she worked from the moment she woke up, to the minute she was locked in to her room at night.
Yes, you read that right: her employer, Ibtissam Alsaadi, would lock her into her room at night. She had no way of escaping her abusers, and she was not even allowed to use the toilet apart from when her employers allowed her to. She suffered the indignity of having to relieve herself in her room. “She thought her husband might come to me, and she is a very jealous woman,” says Halima by way of explanation. “Once I was locked in my room, I couldn’t make a sound.”
Halima escapes poverty but ends up enslaved
Halima was, and remains to this day, entirely illiterate. Her remote, underdeveloped village is so poor that there is only one building made of concrete, belonging to a woman who previously worked in the Gulf. The rest of the houses are wooden shacks. The main export of the village is its women, who go to work in the Middle East.
There is no electricity or running water, and only one house has a toilet. There is no food security where Halima is from – people live from hand to mouth. For these reasons, the women there continue to leave their families behind to try to earn a living working as housemaids in the Middle East.
The fact that Halima is illiterate is a crucial part of her story. She could not access a phone to text anyone, or even pass a handwritten note to ask for help from anyone she came across. But opportunities for contact with the outside world were scarce; she says that she was kept locked inside the house most of the time, so the people she met were far and few between.
The only way her family could contact her was by calling her employers’ house phone. Halima’s husband, Ginaid Kasem, sacrificed a great deal in trying to contact his wife. As there was no electricity in his village, he had to travel miles to the closest town to call Halima from a pay phone. With the little money he had, he would call his wife’s employers and ask to speak to her. Each time, Ibtissam Alsaadi would either keep him on hold until his phone card ran out, or tell him that Halima was unavailable.
“Sometimes they would say ‘your wife is coming’, and at other times they would answer, but not say anything,” says Ginaid. Every single time, his money would run out without him having spoken to his wife, and he would have to make the long trek home.
Halima says she spent all day, every day, cleaning up after Ibtissam Alsaadi and her family, and in return being physically and verbally abused by them. Halima was on call 24/7, she didn’t get any time off, and she suffered profound physical abuse at the hands of Ibtissam Alsaadi and her family. When she explains, it’s clear she is visibly distressed at the memory, and tears roll down her face: “My madam, for the smallest, tiniest mistake would slap me.” She points out the scars from where her employer scratched her neck with her nails.
Another time, Ibtissam Alsaadi allegedly struck Halima with a mop while Halima was cleaning the balcony. Halima’s legs are covered in scars. She recounts how once she was making coffee and she spilled some on the stove. Ibtissam told her: “Halima, why didn’t you see this? Where is your brain?” She then allegedly threw the boiling coffee over Halima, which left extensive scars on her legs.
Almost all of Halima’s nails are brown and black, badly damaged from cleaning. “They didn’t let me use gloves,” she says. “The madam told me, no, you don’t need to have gloves, because you are just a maid here.” Halima adds that Ibtissam Alsaadi would frequently threaten to kill her if she didn’t complete her tasks quickly enough.
Halima was also abused by other family members. She recounts how one of the sons, Alaaddein (Alaa), would punch her. “When Alaa ordered me to do something, he expected it to be done instantly. And if I wasn’t fast enough, he punched me and slapped me.” She alleges that once he hit her with a large piece of wood and fractured her right arm. “It got very big and swollen. I couldn’t move it. They put something on it.” [referring to a cast].
Once when Alaa was hitting Halima, Ibtissam Alsaadi’s husband Ali tried to help her. He said: “Alaa, don’t do that because Halima is like family,” explains Halima. Then Alaa asked his father: “Why? Is she your daughter? Is she family?” Ali AlKhatib told his son to leave Halima alone, and that he felt sorry for her. But the abuse continued.
In our documentary filmed in her hometown, Halima explains how her thoughts turned to dying as a means of getting out of the household: “I wanted to escape, but how could I? They always locked me in the house. I thought of committing suicide, but then I thought of my children,” she says whilst crying. Even when Halima washed the family’s cars outside on the street, her employer would watch her from a balcony above to ensure she did not run away.
Muhammad AlKhatib’s maid dies under suspicious circumstances
To add another twist to the horrors Halima had already suffered, she told us about an Ethiopian woman, Teplaits, who had worked for Ibtissam Alsaadi’s son, Muhammad AlKhatib. Teplaits died under suspicious circumstances. Halima alleges that Muhammad took her to his house, so she could be a witness in case the police questioned him about Teplaits’ death.
“I saw Teplaits because Muhammad took me to the house. I saw the dead body on the ground. He took me there so that if the police asked about her, I could be a witness to say she had not been murdered.”
Halima says that before Teplaits died, she had spoken to her of her suffering. “She was having a hard time taking care of the children. And her madam was bad. That’s what she told me. Her madam was always getting mad at her,” says Halima. Teplaits told her she wanted to escape because the situation was so difficult.
Before arriving at his house, Halima says that Muhammad told her Teplaits was dead. When she asked how Teplaits had died, he told her that she had jumped from the second floor. “I asked him if she was still alive. He told me ‘no, she’s dead’. I asked why he didn’t take her to the hospital, but he said it was too late, she was gone. Her skull was broken, and her legs were lacerated,” Halima recounts.
Note how we explained earlier that Halima is entirely illiterate. After ten years in Lebanon, although she understood Arabic, she barely spoke a word. This was another key tactic used by her employers, to keep her helpless and unable to communicate with the outside world, and to exclude her from conversations. Her English was also very minimal.
She was treated like a machine, and only taught what language was necessary for her to be able to serve her slave owners. Despite their efforts to exclude her from Arabic conversations, after ten years of slavery Halima had picked up enough Arabic to understand when the family sat around the dining room table discussing whether to kill her or not. She was also able to understand when they continually told her that her husband had remarried. In fact, he remained faithful to her the whole time she was away, and never gave up hoping she was still alive.
A meeting with the Embassy of the Philippines
Halima’s husband contacted This Is Lebanon in early 2017, and so we began putting pressure on Halima’s employers to pay her. They eventually agreed to a meeting with staff from the Embassy of the Philippines. It took place on 6 June 2017, at a restaurant in Raouche, between Ibtissam Alsaadi, her children, Halima, and embassy staff.
Before the meeting, Halima says that she was carefully instructed by her employers on what to say. When the embassy staff asked Halima if she had received her salary, she had to say yes. “My madam told me what to say, and I did whatever she told me, because if I didn’t, she said she would kill me,” says Halima.
Meanwhile, This Is Lebanon kept putting pressure on Halima’s employers to pay her what she was owed. We did this by posting about the Alsaadi-AlKhatib family.
The eldest son Alaaddein AlKhatib responded point by point to This Is Lebanon’s accusations about his family’s treatment of Halima.
He commented on our Facebook post:
Halima is alive and not a slave, as we treat her as a family’s member, not as the website said, or wink from it.
Halima is in contact with her family on a monthly basis, she usually call her father every two months and her sister that works in Saudi Arabia every month.
Halima is a good person that is the reason why my parents asked her to extend the duration of the work contract with us and she accepted that, not as the website mentioned that we misbehaved with her.
All of Halima’s legal papers from the General Security, the Ministry of work, and the insurance card, and even her passport had been renewed from the Philippines embassy, and issued in a right way as it should be.
Halima still works with us in our home for the last ten years.
We had three weeks schedule meeting that took place yesterday in Raouche area with two embassy’s staff and Halima was with us, and she was the subject of the meeting, not as the website mentioned that we had been under pressure and respond after that.
Halima got half of her salaries and she saved the other half for the duration she worked with us, so when she gets back to her country will be able to open a small project.
The Philippines embassy staff, asked Halima why she didn’t send her family money, and her response was, she didn’t want to spend on her husband that he got married during this period.
Halima and my mom had agreed three months ago that she will travel back to her country in August this year.
To show that we are transparent, we shared the embassy meetings’ pictures with a journalist asked about Halima via phone, to appear later that she works for the website that start attacking us yesterday
We had done nothing break the law or the humanity rules, we always stand for the rights and the laws of every human
His points raised many questions. Yes, Halima was alive. But why did her family not know this? If she had worked as a normal domestic worker, with all the proper papers in place, why was there a need for a meeting with the embassy staff? Why had her employers not shown any proof that her salary had been paid, and that her work and residence permits were in order? Halima’s sister, who worked in Saudi Arabia, responded saying that Halima had only ever called home once and remitted money once shortly after she had arrived in Lebanon, and that the Embassy of the Philippines had told them Halima would go home after Ramadan. Furthermore, Halima’s husband had not remarried, as attested by her siblings, children and husband. By early July 2017, Halima had still not been released. Her family sent a video testimony pleading for her to be able to come home. Meanwhile, Halima continued to work for Ibtissam Alsaadi and her family, as they wanted her to remain to serve them during the month of Ramadan. Halima had still not been able to speak to her family. The Alsaadi-AlKhatib family then released some photos of Halima at Ibtissam’s birthday celebration, to try to show that Halima had been treated as a family member and not a slave. In This Is Lebanon’s documentary, Halima responds: “They are liars. Because I was about to go home, they took me out to try and convince people they were good to me, but it was all pretend. Ibtissam [only ever] took me out after it was confirmed that I was going home.” The family also released a video showing Halima – without headscarf, dressed in a tank top and shorts, despite being a conservative Muslim – waving at the camera and addressing her family, saying she was fine. In another video, supposedly at a party put on for Halima’s birthday, she is cutting a cake and the family are singing to her. Halima says it was the first time the family had shown any such gesture. Between July 2017 until she left in early October 2017, Halima remained in the household working for her employers. In September 2017, Halima – who as we mentioned was entirely illiterate – was forced to sign an affidavit falsely stating she was paid her full salary; that her employers treated her well and took her out often, and that she didn’t transfer money home because her husband had remarried and had a child. The affidavit was also translated into Tagalog, which Halima cannot read or write. Halima finally left Lebanon on 5 October, 2017. But not before her former slave owner could get in one last vile act. Ibtissam packed Halima’s bag for her. Halima had another bag of items which she really wanted to send home, and she paid $150 to do so. This bag never arrived. When she arrived in Manila and opened the bag Ibtissam had packed for her, she found used sanitary towels in it. Halima was the fourth domestic worker to be enslaved by Ibtissam Alsaadi and her family. The one before Halima, Mary Grace Bongao, was sexually molested by Ibtissam and Ali’s sons. According to a relative of Ibtissam’s, who contacted us on Facebook, the worker before Mary Grace managed to escape by jumping from the balcony onto the neighbour’s balcony. Halima was eventually freed thanks to public pressure from This Is Lebanon’s Facebook page. She suffered ten years of enslavement at the hands of Ibtissam Alsaadi. She has yet to be paid the full amount she is owed. She will never be able to make up for the ten years she missed out on her children growing up. She is left with the scars of the abuse she suffered. The Alsaadi-AlKhatib family considers themselves untouchable and above any sort of justice. Will these slave owners be brought to justice? #JusticeForHalima #EndKafala
12 August 2007
28-year-old Halima arrives in Lebanon from a village near Cotobato, a remote area in the southern Philippines, to work for Ali AlKhatib and Ibtissam Alsaadi. The family lives in Ramlet el Bayda, Beirut. Halima leaves behind a husband and three daughters, aged two, five and seven.
22 August 2007
Halima’s husband Ginaid Kasem receives a call from her. After that, he never hears from his wife again. “Many, many people from inside and outside the Philippines tried to call her over the last ten years but Ibtissam Alsaadi always said “she’s not here”, “she’s out of town” – endless excuses,” says Ginaid. In the whole ten years, Halima only ever sends home $300, equivalent to a month’s salary.
Ginaid Kasem contacts This Is Lebanon, asking if we can help him track down his wife Halima. He hasn’t heard from her for almost a decade.
6 June 2017
This Is Lebanon manages to track down Halima. She has been enslaved for ten years by Ibtissam Alsaadi, an aspiring politician. The Embassy of the Philippines is put in direct contact with Halima’s employers.
Week #1 of June, 2017
Halima, her employers and two embassy staff members meet at a restaurant in Raouche. Halima is coached beforehand by Ibtissam Alsaadi on what to say when the embassy staff ask her how she is, and whether she had been paid. Halima says: “They told me ‘Halima, if they ask if you got your money, say yes.’ The staff asked me if I got money and if I was fine. I said yes, I was fine and they started talking to Alaa. I wasn’t allowed to talk further to the embassy staff. They only spoke to Ibtissam and Alaa.”
11 June 2017
Alaaddein AlKhatib posts a series of responses online, alleging that Halima is not a slave and that she is well treated, speaks to her family often, that her papers are all in order, and that she’s been paid regularly (and is also saving money). He doesn’t provide any evidence to back up his statements – no proof of payment, no legal documents. He falsely claims that Halima didn’t want to send money back home because her husband had remarried (he had not).
(26 May – 24 June)
Halima has to stay to serve Ibtissam Alsaadi and her family throughout the holy month.
2 July 2017
Halima’s family plead for her release: “We want our mom to come home. We miss our Mom. We did not see her or talk to her for ten years. We need and love our mom. Please send her back home.”
30 July 2017
Privately one of the children of the Alsaadi-AlKhatib family send This Is Lebanon threatening messages.
July – September 2017
This Is Lebanon continues to put pressure on the family to send Halima home.
26 September 2017
Halima, who is completely illiterate, is forced to sign an affidavit falsely stating she was paid her full salary; that her employers treated her well and took her out often, and that she didn’t transfer money home because her husband remarried and had a child. The affidavit was also translated into Tagalog, which Halima cannot read or write.
3 October 2017
Eldest son Alaaddein AlKhatib releases a video in which Halima repeats the date after him, and states that she’s gotten all the money she is owed from Ibtissam Alsaadi, and that she will travel back to the Philippines soon.
On the same day, Halima wires home $4,500.
5 October 2017
Halima travels back to the Philippines. Before she travels, Ibtissam Alsaadi takes Halima’s shoes and replaces them with a pair of flip flops.
These are the abusers and those who looked onto Halima’s abuse and chose to participate or help Ibtisaam Alsaadi cover it up.
“I wanted to escape but how could I? They always locked me in.” – Halima
Ibtissam Abdul Hamid Alsaadi
A serial abuser, slave owner and psychopath. Psychologically abused her employees. Kept Halima as a slave for ten years, and Mary Grace Bongao as a slave
for 11 months.
Ibtissam is of Syrian origin, with family members still in Damascus. She has tried, unsuccessfully, to run as a member of parliament in Lebanon since 2004, for the Sunni parliamentary seat in the district of Baalbek and Hermel.
She has a degree and background in political science, and has been active in social work for the past two decades. Has previously expressed that she believes that women should participate in elections and democratic battles in order to reach their representation in the best way.
Despite her alleged extensive abuse of her own employees, Ibtissam’s name was put forward as a potential Minister for Women in the new Lebanese government, formed in early 2019.
Ibtissam Alsaadi is known for being closely connected to Lebanon’s political elite. She has previously been photographed with President Michel Aoun, as well as high-ranking leaders of the Maronite church.
“My career in charity work continues without greed for a high position” – from Ibtissam’s campaign poster
“Entering the political arena should not be limited to men; men and women share all life decisions, so why not extend the sharing to political decisions, developmental work and services.” – Ibtissam Alsaadi
Alaaddein ‘Alaa’ AlKhatib
Ibtissam’s eldest son. Physically abused Halima. She alleges that he once broke her arm by hitting her with a piece of wood. Former employee Mary Grace Bongao alleges
that he sexually harassed her by indecently exposing himself to her.
Ibtissam and Ali’s second son. Halima alleges that his former employee Teplaits, an Ethiopian national, died under suspicious circumstances whilst working for him. Halima says that Muhammad abused Teplaits and that she died at the hands of her employer. Muhammed allegedly brought Halima to his house so she could act as a false witness, if necessary, in the police investigation.
The youngest son. He sent This Is Lebanon abusive messages after we exposed the family as slave owners. “You are a big son of a bitch bc your [sic] a big fucking lieyer [sic]. I swear to god if you’re beside me right I would tear u into ashes u big lieyer [sic].”Has previously posted photos of himself on social media, depicted with guns.
Ibtissam and Ali’s daughter. According to her Facebook profile, like her brother Muhammad she enjoys horse riding at a high level.
Ibtissam Alsaadi’s husband. His role in the abuse is ambiguous: Halima spoke well of him, and he tried on at least one occasion to stop his family hurting her. However, he lived with it and did not take serious steps to see it stopped. When previous enslaved employee Mary Grace Bongao ran away, he tried to bring her back, calling her “a donkey and a fool”.
Daughter of Ibtissam and Ali.
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