Page last updated at 18:17 GMT, Monday, 9 November 2009

Concern over Lebanon maid deaths

Foreign maids in Lebanon (file)
Foreign domestic workers are not covered by Lebanon's labour laws

A human rights group wants the Lebanese government to investigate the deaths of eight foreign maids last month, six of whom fell or jumped from high places.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said four of the deaths were classified as suicides by the police, three as possible work accidents and one as a heart attack.

Officials had to explain why there was such a high death rate among Lebanon's 200,000 domestic workers, it said.

Last year, HRW reported that at least one foreign maid was dying every week.

In January, the labour ministry introduced a standard employment contract that clarified 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 aimed to improve oversight of their operations.

However, domestic workers are still not covered by Lebanon's labour laws, and there are no mechanisms to enforce the new regulations.

'Living in a cage'

The eight women who died during October included four Ethiopians, two Nepalis and two Malagasies, HRW said.

The government needs to explain why so many women who came to Lebanon to work end up leaving the country in coffins
Nadim Houry
Senior researcher for HRW

"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, a senior researcher at the organisation.

"The government needs to explain why so many women who came to Lebanon to work end up leaving the country in coffins."

A diplomat from one of the countries from which one of the dead women came told HRW that foreign maids in Lebanon were "under pressure, with no means to go away".

"Their passports are seized and they are often locked away in their employer's house," the diplomat said.

"It is like they are living in a cage. Human beings need to mingle with others; otherwise they lose their will to live."

HRW urged the government to begin tracking deaths and injuries, to ensure the police properly investigate them, and to develop a concrete strategy to reduce these deaths by combating forced confinement, providing a hotline for workers, appointing labour inspectors and improving working conditions.

The organisation also urged the embassies of the migrant workers' countries to increase support services, including counselling.

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