Page last updated at 14:33 GMT, Tuesday, 26 August 2008 15:33 UK

Lebanon maid deaths cause alarm

Filipino maids in Beirut
Filipino maids number highly among the dead workers

At least one immigrant domestic worker dies each week in Lebanon, by suicide or by accident during a bid to escape, a human rights group reports.

Human Rights Watch is calling for an investigation into the reasons behind the deaths of at least 95 migrant maids since January 2007.

Forty were classed as suicide while 24 died in falls from high buildings.

Many of the women face abuse and low wages or die trying to escape from employers who lock them up, HRW said.

"All those involved... need to ask themselves what is driving these women to kill themselves or risk their lives trying to escape from high buildings," said HRW Senior Researcher Nadim Houry.

Locked in

Interviews carried out by the group suggested financial pressures and excessive work, together with abuse and isolation, were key factors driving the workers to take or risk their own lives.

The maids are largely from Sri Lanka, Ethiopia and the Philippines.

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," Mr Houry said.

The group cited the case of a Nepalese worker, Kamala Nagari, who was injured trying to escape from her employer.

"I was locked in for two days, and they [the employers] did not give me food and water," she testified to HRW.

"Then after two days, I wanted to run away. The apartment was on the fifth floor. I tried to go down using cable wires running along the wall of building. The cable broke, and I do not remember what happened afterwards."

The group said the police investigations into immigrants' deaths are often flawed, and it called on an official Lebanese committee tasked with improving the status of domestic workers to develop a strategy to reduce the number of deaths.

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