By Najla Chahda, director of Caritas Lebanon Migrant Centre
Yesterday, I arrived at Beirut International Airport to come here to the conference in Senegal and following immigration control, I saw a woman sleeping on the floor with blood coming from her nose. I went to talk to her and found out that she was from Bangladesh and her employer had brought her there.
I got the airport doctor to come and he said she was haemorrhaging in her stomach – that’s why the blood was dripping from her nose. The woman gave me the employer’s number in Arabic but when I called him, he said he’d signed the release papers for her at the airport and she was no longer his responsibility.
This is the type of case that Caritas Lebanon deals with. Migrant women come to Lebanon and the employers pay around $50 for a false medical insurance to cover bureaucratic needs. Some of the migrant women believe they’ve got health coverage but they haven’t.
Caritas Lebanon’s Migration Centre runs three centres in and around Beirut. One is for trafficked women, one for sick women and the other for women with children. We work on protecting migrant women and we have a team of 11 lawyers to help these women solve their problems. Caritas Lebanon also run a health camp where migrants get full medical check ups.
Women come to us having suffered physical and sexual abuse in the homes where they work. The impact of migration can be massive. We also get a lot of psychiatric cases of women who have schizophrenia. Maybe because they’re so vulnerable they get sick more easily.
There’s also a lot of aggression. Sometimes the women turn the aggression on themselves and they stop eating. Or they fight among themselves. We’ve had several cases where women have attacked their employer.
There have been a high number of suicides by Ethiopian women in Lebanon. There was one in July when a Ethiopian domestic helper, Zewdnesh Theshome Beyene, jumped from the 8th floor of her employer’s house in Msaytbeh. Four Ethiopian women domestics in Lebanon killed themselves during October 2009.
Suicide is a serious problem. Women from Indonesia are also particularly vulnerable. Maybe one reason is because they fear that their husband back home will take another wife. One woman who came to us had been working hard and sending money back to her husband, only to discover that he was using it to get married to a second wife.