Sri Lankan maid hangs herself at Dubai airport

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Jan 25 2008

From Lankan Business online:

DUBAI, Jan 24, 2008 (AFP) - A Sri Lankan maid, in transit on her way home from Kuwait to see her children for the first time in three years, hanged herself in a toilet at Dubai airport, an Emirati daily said on Thursday.

The report came just two days after the oil-rich Gulf states reached agreement with labour-sending Asian countries at a meeting in Abu Dhabi to join forces against the exploitation of migrant workers.

Kala Sangarapillai, 30, from the Batticaloa district of eastern Sri Lanka took her own life three weeks ago, the English-language Al-Khaleej Times newspaper said, citing a forensics officer from Dubai police.

"The Sri Lankan woman hanged herself from the ceiling of the airport's ladies restroom and was found by the cleaners. The body of the victim is still in the police mortuary," the paper quoted him as saying.

Sangarapillai's aunt, Thangeswari Sivalingam, told the paper by telephone that the family had been devastated by word of her death amid their excitement at the prospect of seeing her again after such a long absence.

"We cannot believe this has happened. Her four children were eagerly waiting to see their mother, who was supposed to spend a few days with them before she went back to work. We see no reason for her to have resorted to such an extreme step," she said.

According to Thangeswari, her niece, who had been abandoned by her husband, had borrowed heavily to find work as she was keen to give her son and three daughters a good education.

"We were all so happy that we were going to see her. Now, we are waiting for the body to reach us. Only then, we would really believe she is no more," the paper quoted her as saying.

Millions of migrant workers, most of them south Asian, seek work in the Gulf each year, many of them paying huge advances to sometimes unscrupulous middlemen which they then have to repay as well as sending remittances to their families.

Some migrants, unable to pay off their debts, are forced to return home empty-handed.

Each year Gulf newspapers report a few dozen cases in which workers take their own lives rather than face the shame of admitting to failing in their dreams of finding their fortune.

In December, an Indian labourer committed suicide after his employer, who had not paid him in five months, refused to lend him the equivalent of 13 dollars so that he could see a doctor.

The Gulf states frequently come under fire from human rights watchdogs for their failure to do more to improve the working and living conditions of migrant workers.

Tuesday's agreement between their governments and Asian labour-sending countries followed a call from New York-based Human Right Watch for the meeting to take action to halt "widespread violations" of the rights of migrant workers.

Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East