Philippines investigates suicide of a maid at embassy shelter in Lebanon

Thousands of foreign workers in Lebanon have been left stranded and without work by the coronavirus pandemic. (AP)
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Updated 24 May 2020

Philippines investigates suicide of a maid at embassy shelter in Lebanon

  • Human rights groups had already raised the alarm about conditions for the women staying in the shelter
  • Lebanon is home to up to 250,000 foreign workers, some of whom are there illegally

AMMAN: 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 Filipino domestic worker had been staying at the facility since Friday where she was sharing a room with two other people.
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 Filipino’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 Filipino 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.


WHO: Middle East at ‘critical threshold’ in coronavirus numbers

Updated 4 min 26 sec ago

WHO: Middle East at ‘critical threshold’ in coronavirus numbers

  • Over 80 percent of all deaths in the region were reported in five countries — Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia
CAIRO: The World Health Organization warned Wednesday the Middle East was at a decisive moment in the fight against the novel coronavirus, with cases surging as countries ease lockdown measures.
“We are at a critical threshold in our region,” the WHO’s Middle East head, Ahmed Al-Mandhari, said in an online press conference.
According to figures published by the global health body on Wednesday, the 22 countries from Morocco to Pakistan had recorded 1,077,706 novel coronavirus cases and 24,973 deaths.
Mandhari said passing a million infections marked a “concerning milestone” and urged countries to strengthen their health care systems.
“The number of cases reported in June alone is higher than the total number of cases reported during the four months following the first reported case in the region on 29 January,” he said.
He attributed the rise in confirmed cases to increased testing, the easing in recent weeks of lockdown measures and weakened health infrastructure in conflict-hit countries.
Over 80 percent of all deaths in the region were reported in five countries — Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia — according to the WHO.
Iran, which has been struggling to contain the Middle East’s deadliest outbreak, on Monday recorded its highest single-day COVID death toll of 162.
It now has a recorded a total of 230,211 infections and 10,958 deaths.
Official figures have shown a rising trajectory in new confirmed cases since early May, when Iran hit a near two-month low in daily recorded infections.
The Islamic republic gradually lifted restrictions from April to try to reopen its sanctions-hit economy.
In neighboring Iraq, authorities have refused to reimpose strict lockdown measures, even as hospitals across the country, battered by years of war, have been swamped in recent weeks.
While the virus had spread relatively slowly for months, on Wednesday the number of recorded cases surpassed 51,000 including more than 2,000 deaths.
Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country with 100 million inhabitants, has officially reported 68,000 cases and around 3,000 deaths from the COVID-19 disease.
On Wednesday, authorities reopened the famed Giza pyramids after a three-month closure, a day after resuming international flights as part of efforts to restart the vital tourism industry.
Lebanon, battling an economic crisis and public unrest alongside the novel coronavirus, reopened the Beirut airport after months of closure.
The small eastern Mediterranean state has recorded some of the lowest infection and mortality rates in the Middle East: 1,800 cases and just 34 deaths.
In contrast, neighboring Israel saw a jump of about 15 percent in case numbers in the last week to over 25,500 on Wednesday, according to government figures.
The West Bank too was hit by a sharp spike in infections, with the Palestinian Authority on Wednesday announcing a five-day lockdown across the territory.
Total confirmed coronavirus infections in the territory more than doubled within a week to 2,636 following the easing of previous restrictions.
In Qatar, residents cautiously returned to beaches on Wednesday as the Gulf nation, with one of the world’s highest per-capita infection rates and tough penalties for failing to wear masks in public, continued to reopen.
WHO officials at the virtual meeting urged governments to prepare more intensive care beds and emergency wards.
Mandhari urged individuals to be “cautious and vigilant” as lockdowns and curfews were eased, and to follow protocols recommended by health authorities.
“Easing of lockdowns does not mean easing of the response or easing of social responsibilities,” he said, warning cases could rise as public spaces reopen “even in countries where the situation now seems to be stabilizing.”
He also called for global solidarity.
“We have to face this pandemic as one government and one community,” he said.