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The desperate final days of a domestic worker in Lebanon

Beirut, Lebanon – On the morning of March 13, Faustina Tay sent a final desperate message to an activist group she had contacted about the abuse she was suffering at the hands of her Lebanese employers. “God please help me,” the 23-year-old Ghanaian domestic worker wrote. About 18 hours later, she was found dead. More:…

The desperate final days of a domestic worker in Lebanon

Beirut, Lebanon – On the morning of March 13, Faustina Tay sent a final desperate message to an activist group she had contacted about the abuse she was suffering at the hands of her Lebanese employers.
“God please help me,” the 23-year-old Ghanaian domestic worker wrote.
About 18 hours later, she was found dead.
More:

The Lebanese revolution must abolish the kafala system

Amnesty calls on Lebanon to end ‘abusive’ sponsorship system

‘This Is Lebanon’ webpage shames employers accused of maid abuse

Tay’s body was discovered in a car park under her employers’ fourth-storey home in Beirut’s southern suburbs, between 3 and 4am on March 14.
A forensic doctor who examined her body found that her death was caused by a head injury “as a result of falling from a high place and crashing into a solid body”.
The doctor found “no marks of physical assault”. A search of Tay’s employers’ home found no signs of a struggle, and the death was being investigated as a suicide, according to a police report.

Tay sent dozens of texts to her brother in Ghana, pleading for help [Courtesy of Demanya family]

Hussein Dia, whose home Tay had lived and worked in for 10 months at the time of her death, told Al Jazeera he and his family had been sleeping when she died.
Dia said he did not know what had driven the 23-year-old to take her own life, and denied he ever physically assaulted her – “I never laid a hand on her.”
But in the week before her death, Tay sent dozens of texts and more than 40 minutes of voice messages to Canada-based activist group, This Is Lebanon, and her brother in Ghana, providing detailed accounts of recurrent physical abuse.
This Is Lebanon names and shames employers accused of maid abuse online in an attempt to resolve issues facing domestic workers on a case-by-case basis.
Human Rights Watch found in a 2010 report that Lebanon’s judiciary fails to hold employers accountable for abuses, while security agencies often do not “adequately investigate claims of violence or abuse”.
Tay told the group that Dia and Ali Kamal, the owner of the domestic worker’s agency that had brought her to Lebanon, had each beaten her twice between January 16 and March 6.
Kamal had beaten her along with one of his employees, Hussein, she said.
In the messages, Tay repeatedly expressed concerns that speaking about her ordeal could lead to more abuse, and the confiscation of her phone, which she said had taken place once before.
She also feared much worse.
“I’m scared. I’m scared; they might kill me,” she said, in a chilling voice note to activists.

‘Modern-day slavery’
The manner of Tay’s death is not uncommon in Lebanon, a country with about 250,000 domestic workers. Two die each week, according to the country’s General Security intelligence agency, with many falling from high buildings during botched escape attempts, or in cases that are ruled suicides.
Domestic workers like Tay are employed under the country’s notorious kafala system, which ties their legal residence to their employer, making it very difficult for them to end their contracts.
This sponsorship system, which is in place in several Middle Eastern countries, has facilitated a range of abuse, such as non-payment of wages, a lack of rest time and days off, and physical and sexual assault.
Lebanon’s former Labour Minister Camille Abousleiman likened the system to “modern-day slavery,” and began a process of reform that is still in its early stages.
Women who come to Lebanon for domestic work from a host of Southeast Asian and African countries such as the Philippines, Nepal and Ethiopia are usually looking to support their families back home and eventually return.
Tay’s case sheds light on the type of abuse that ends with many returning to their families in coffins.

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