Lebanon News

Maid was on hunger strike before suicide, ministry says

File - Migrant domestic workers of various nationalities attend the launch of the first domestic workers union on Jan. 25, 2015, at the headquarters of the National Federation of Unions for Workers and Employees in Lebanon (FENASOL) in the Lebanese capital Beirut. AFP PHOTO / ANWAR AMRO

BEIRUT: A maid who was found hanged at her employer’s apartment in Tripoli Thursday had been on a hunger strike for three days before committing suicide, Lebanon’s Labor Ministry announced Friday.

The ministry said in a statement that its investigation had revealed that the Bengali worker had been insisting on traveling back to her country to be with her children.

The domestic worker was identified as Melika Begum, according to security sources. She was found hanged in her room at her employer’s apartment in the Qibbeh neighborhood of Tripoli.

“Recently, the maid had been asking to go back to her country and see her children, the pictures of whom she had been carrying,” the statement said. “She refused to eat during her last three days and then committed suicide by hanging.”

Labor Minister Sejaan Azzi called for the probe to continue in the case. He faulted the employers for not acting “humanely,” knowing that she had been on a hunger strike and wanted to return home.

“It is unacceptable to shut in a maid when she’s a mother without notifying the maid agency or the Labor Ministry so that the necessary measures are taken,” the statement said.

“Considering the incident a suicide is not enough to close the case,” Azzi was quoted as saying in the ministry statement.

Begum was living with a family of six, the statement said, including a mother who works as a school teacher, her husband who works at a hospital, and their four children.

About 200,000 foreign domestic workers are employed in Lebanon under the much-criticized sponsorship system. Human Rights Watch and other organizations have called on Lebanese authorities to address the “high levels of abuse and deaths” of maids in the country.

HRW in 2008 recorded an average of one maid death a week in Lebanon by unnatural causes, including suicides.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 21, 2015, on page 2.

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