Lebanon: Migrant Domestic Workers Dying Every Week

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Aug 27 2008

In a recently released report, Human Rights Watch stated that every week, more than one domestic worker dies due to unnatural reasons in Lebanon.

“Domestic workers are dying in Lebanon at a rate of more than one per week,” said Nadim Houry, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. “All those involved – from the Lebanese authorities, to the workers’ embassies, to the employment agencies, to the employers – need to ask themselves what is driving these women to kill themselves or risk their lives trying to escape from high buildings.”

Interviews with embassy officials and friends of domestic workers who committed suicide suggest that forced confinement, excessive work demands, employer abuse, and financial pressures are key factors pushing these women to kill themselves or risk their lives. An official at the Philippines embassy told Human Rights Watch about one Filipina worker whose employers accused her of stealing a piece of jewelry. The employers beat her and locked her inside the house, he said. She ended up committing suicide.

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Lebanese police generally investigate death cases but interviews with lawyers representing domestic workers and officials working at the migrants’ embassies as well as a review of investigators’ notes in three separate police investigations reveal many flaws. First, the police do not always investigate whether the employer mistreated the employee, and when they do, they limit themselves to general questions and accept the employer’s testimony without cross-checking their statements with information from neighbors or the family of the domestic worker. Second, in cases where the domestic worker survives a fall, police often interview her without the presence of a translator and generally ignore the motives that led her to escape.

The report included a compilation of the names, nationalities and causes of death of domestic workers from Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Ethiopia. However, since several embassies did not disclose information, actual statistics are likely to be even more shocking.

The report should serve as a wake up call to Lebanese officials; these tragedies cannot be allowed to continue.

Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East