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Philippines investigates suicide of a maid at embassy shelter in Lebanon

by Ban Barkawi | @banbarkawi | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Sunday, 24 May 2020 17:44 GMT

A foreign domestic worker cleans window blinds in Beirut, Lebanon, May 21, 2020. Picture taken May 21, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

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Coronavirus restrictions coupled with Lebanon's economic meltdown has prompted people to ditch domestic helpers or not pay them

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By Ban Barkawi

AMMAN, May 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The Philippine government is investigating the suicide of a maid who died on Sunday after an incident at a shelter run by its embassy in Beirut for Filipino workers waiting to return home after losing their jobs in the coronavirus pandemic.

Her death comes just days after human rights groups raised concerns about the treatment of 26 female domestic workers staying at the shelter under the care of the Philippine embassy.

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the Filipina domestic worker had been staying at the facility since Friday where she was sharing a room with two other people.

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Coronavirus restrictions coupled with an economic meltdown in Lebanon has prompted people to ditch domestic help or not pay them, with workers seeking refuge at their countries' embassies while they wait for borders to open so they can return home.

"The Embassy was able to speak to the Filipina's eldest sister in the Philippines as well as her cousin in Lebanon to convey its condolences," the DFA said in a statement.

"The Embassy has ensured the safety of the rest of the female wards in the shelter and will provide them counseling as needed."

Neither the Philippine embassy in Lebanon nor the DFA were immediately available for further comment.

A spokesman from Lebanon's internal security forces said they could not comment while an investigation was ongoing.

Human rights groups last week raised concerns that about 26 Filipina domestic workers, some of whom were working without legal documentation, were being held in over-crowded conditions, although embassy staff repeatedly denied mistreatment.

Bassam Al Kantar of the National Human Rights Commission of Lebanon said these women "have not seen the light of day for more than 40 days".

The Philippine embassy said in an earlier statement that the allegations "do not depict an accurate description of the conditions" and posted a social media video on May 18 of a shelter resident saying there was lots of food and medical care.

Thousands of foreign workers in Lebanon, some without legal documentation, are out of work and left stranded by border closures, with many unable to access state services and others subjected to abuse in confinement, according to Amnesty.

Lebanon is home to up to 250,000 foreign workers, some working illegally, who are employed under the country's kafala sponsorship system which binds them to one employer.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have blamed the kafala system and the inability to change jobs, which exists in many parts of the Middle East, for the abuse of migrant workers.

Related stories: 

Lebanon sees migrant domestic workers as 'less than human' – filmmaker

Lebanon's coronavirus lockdown leaves migrant women penniless and stranded

Migrant domestic workers in Lebanon deported for having children - rights group

(Reporting by Ban Barkawi @banbarkawi; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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