By Laura Zuber
Impunity Watch Senior Desk Officer, Middle East
BEIRUT, Lebanon – On August 26, Human Rights Watch called on the Lebanese government to address the high rate of unnatural deaths of migrant domestic workers. Since January 2007, at least 95 migrant workers have died in Lebanon.
Of these 95 deaths, 40 are classified as suicide, while 24 others were caused by workers falling from high buildings, often while trying to escape their employers. By contrast, only 14 domestic workers died because of diseases or health issues. Key factors pushing these women to kill themselves or risk their lives are forced confinement, excessive work demands, employer abuse, and financial pressures.
A 2006 survey quoted by HRW showed 31% of 600 domestic workers interviewed were not allowed to leave the home they worked in. “Many domestic workers are literally being driven to jump from balconies to escape their forced confinement,” said Nadim Houry, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“Domestic workers are dying in Lebanon at a rate of more than one per week…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,” said Houry.
In early 2006, an official steering committee was established to ease the problems of domestic workers. The committee has three main goals. First, to create standardized employment contracts in Arabic, English, French and the native language of the worker. Second, to publish a booklet detailing the rights and obligations of employers and employees, to be distributed at airports, ministries and recruitment agencies. Lastly, to formulate a new law for migrant workers.
But according to Houry, “to date” the committee “has failed to deliver any concrete reforms … it’s time for the Lebanese government to show real leadership and actually deliver” these promises, he said.
For more information, please see:
The Daily Star – Domestic Workers Risking Death to Flee Employers – 27 August 2008
BBC – Lebanon Maid Deaths Cause Alarm – 26 August 2008
HRW – Annex: Deaths of Migrant Domestic Workers in Lebanon – 26 August 2008
HRW – Lebanon: Migrant Domestic Workers Dying Every Week – 26 August 2008