(Beirut) - The Lebanese government should investigate the deaths of eight migrant domestic workers during October 2009, as well as the reasons for the disproportionately high death rate among this group of workers, Human Rights Watch said today. An estimated 200,000 domestic workers, primarily from Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Ethiopia, work in Lebanon.
Four of the deaths are classified by police reports or by the workers' embassies as suicides, three as possible work accidents, and one as a heart attack. Six of the deaths occurred when migrant domestic workers either fell or jumped from high places. One woman committed suicide by hanging herself from a tree. The dead include four Ethiopians, two Nepalis, and two Malagasies.
"The death toll last month is clear evidence that the government isn't doing enough to fix the difficult working conditions these women face," said Nadim Houry, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. "The government needs to explain why so many women who came to Lebanon to work end up leaving the country in coffins."
In August 2008, Human Rights Watch published a study showing that migrant domestic workers were dying at a rate of more than one a week in Lebanon.
A diplomat at the consulate of the country from which one of the dead women came told Human Rights Watch: "These women are under pressure, with no means to go away. Their passports are seized and they are often locked away in their employer's house. It is like they are living in a cage. Human beings need to mingle with others; otherwise they lose their will to live."
An official steering committee created in early 2006 and led by the labor ministry has taken some steps to improve the treatment of migrant domestic workers. In January 2009, the labor ministry introduced a standard employment contract that clarifies certain terms and conditions of employment for domestic workers, such as the maximum number of daily working hours, as well as a new regulation for employment agencies that aims to improve oversight of their operations. However, these workers are still excluded from the country's labor law, and there are still no enforcement mechanisms for the current rules governing domestic employment.
"As long as Lebanon does not appoint labor inspectors to ensure compliance with the new rules, these rules will exist on paper only," Houry said.
Human Rights Watch urged the official steering committee that works to improve the status of domestic workers to begin tracking deaths and injuries, to ensure that the police properly investigate them and to develop a concrete strategy to reduce these deaths. This strategy should include combating the practice of forced confinement, providing a labor ministry hotline for the workers, appointing labor inspectors, and improving working conditions and labor law protections.
Human Rights Watch also urged governments of the migrant workers' countries of origin to increase the services at their embassies and diplomatic missions in Lebanon by providing counseling and shelter for workers in distress.
Details about Deaths of Migrant Domestic Workers in October 2009
On October 8, Sunit Bholan of Nepal, 22, reportedly committed suicide.
On October 16, Kassaye Etsegenet of Ethiopia, 23, died after reportedly jumping from the seventh floor of a building on Charles Helou avenue in Beirut. Etsegenet left a suicide note in which she states that her decision was based on personal reasons, in particular, a fight with another member of her family.
On October 21, Zeditu Kebede Matente of Ethiopia, 26, was found dead in the town of Haris hanging from an olive tree.
On October 23, Saneet Mariam of Ethiopia, 30, died after falling from the balcony of her employer's house in the town of Mastita.
On October 23, Mina Rokaya, of Nepal, 24, died after being transferred from her employer's house in Blat to a hospital. The police report says that she died from a heart attack.
On October 28, Tezeta Yalmoya of Ethiopia, 26, died after falling from the third floor of the apartment building where she worked in `Abra, next to Saida. According to reports in local papers, she fell while cleaning the balcony.
Newspapers in Madagascar reported the deaths of two Malagasy women in Lebanon in October. The first worker, identified as Mampionona, reportedly fell from the third floor while cleaning the balcony. She had arrived in Lebanon on September 1. The other, identified as Vololona, died after reportedly jumping from the fourth floor.