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Ethiopian woman found dead in employer's home amid concern for domestic workers in Lebanon

Ethiopian domestic workers wait outside their country's consulate to register for repatriation [AFP/Getty]

Date of publication: 19 June, 2020

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An Ethiopian domestic worker was found dead in her employer's home in Lebanon.
An Ethiopian domestic worker was found dead in her employer's home in Lebanon, the state-run National News Agency reported Thursday evening.

The woman was found hanging in her employer's home in Bekaa Valley's Tamnine al-Tahta village, amid concerns from human rights groups over the treatment of migrant workers in Lebanon.

The news of the death comes as over a hundred stranded domestic workers have been sleeping outside the Ethiopian consulate in Lebanon.

The workers are demanding to be repatriated after their Lebanese employers refused to pay their salaries.

The Ethiopion women said they were stuck in the country as they were unable to pay for repatriation, while consular services are unable to help them.

Lebanon's some 250,000 migrant works have been particularly hard hit by the spread of coronavirus in Lebanon and the preceding economic crisis – now characterised by all-time-high 
currency depreciation and a shortage of hard currency.

A domestic worker taking shelter at the Philippines embassy in Lebanon died in 'suspicious circumstances' at the end of May, prompting Manila to launch an investigation into the incident.

The reported suicide of 29-year-old Filipina, Jenalyn Banares, came after human rights groups raised concerns over the condition of some 26 women staying at the embassy shelter.

'Most marginalised'

Amnesty International condemned the treatment of the Ethiopian woman outside the Ethiopian embassy at the start of June, calling on the Lebanese authorities to protect migrant domestic workers trapped in the country as the economic crisis in Lebanon deepens.

The group said that the ministry of labour should enforce the unified standard contract, which would guarantee migrant workers the right to their pay and accommodation. 

"These women are among the most marginalised people in society, and are bearing the brunt of the economic crisis which was exacerbated by Covid-19," said Heba Morayef, Amnesty International's MENA Regional Director.

"The Lebanese government cannot ignore their plight. Under the kafala system, not only are their rights restricted but their lives are endangered as well, particularly as reports of abuse in the home have increased during confinement," she added.

Morayef called on the Lebanese authorities to investigate the crisis and stop it from escalating further, saying they must immediately provide accommodation, food, medical care and other support to migrant workers who have lost their jobs.

Amnesty also called for the Lebanese government to set up a labour inspection unit to monitor working conditions of migrant domestic workers, as well as a fast-tracked dispute mechanism so workers can claim their unpaid salaries and request to be repatriated.

An estimated 250,000 domestic workers live in Lebanon, around 150,000 of which are Ethiopian, according to government figures. However, thousands more are estimated to be in the country undocumented.

There is also reportedly a lack of space for them to quarantine in Addis Ababa, a precaution enacted by Ethiopia due to the coronavirus epidemic.

Many of the women have been abandoned by their employers and recruitment agencies, leaving them without pay, their belongings, or even their passports, according to Amnesty International.

Read more: Lebanon's Anti-Racism Movement is a lifeline for vulnerable migrant workers during coronavirus

Lebanon's exploitative Kafala sponsorship system excludes maids, nannies and carers from Lebanon's labour law, and leaves them at the mercy of their employers, who pay wages as low as $150 a month.

The system dictates that unhappy workers are unable to resign without their employer's permission, while their visa and other rights are terminated once they lose their jobs, leading many to liken it to modern-day slavery.


Agencies contributed to this report.

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