The body of a 23-year-old Ghanaian domestic worker in Lebanon has been found in the car park of her employer’s fourth-storey residence, a day after sending a message pleading for help.
Prior to Faustina Tay’s death, she sent several distress messages to her brother in Ghana and a Canada-based activist group complaining of physical abuse from her employer and the owner of the agency that recruited her, Al Jazeera reports.
Tay’s last message – “God please help me” – was sent to the activist group on March 13.
The cause of her death, according to a forensic doctor, was as a result of a head injury after “falling from a high place and crashing into a solid body.” The doctor also added that “no marks of physical assault” were found on her body.
Her employer, Hussein Dia, denied any wrongdoing in an interview with Al Jazeera. He said he did not know the motive behind her alleged suicide and claimed he never laid a hand on her. Tay worked for Dia for 10 months and slept on the kitchen floor of his home he lived with his wife and children as she wasn’t given a bedroom.
Before Tay’s death, however, she sent several text and voice messages to the activist group, This Is Lebanon, and her brother alleging she was beaten by Dia, the owner of the recruitment agency, Ali Kamal, and an employee. Tay alleged she was beaten twice between January 16 and March 6. She also sent photos to her brother showing an inflamed hand, a bruise on her forearm and a scratch under her eye, claiming her injuries were as a result of the physical abuse, according to Al Jazeera.
Tay, who also said her phone was once confiscated as punishment for complaining about her abuse, told her brother and This Is Lebanon she was desperate to come home but her efforts to convince Dia and Kamal to allow her return to Ghana were futile.
“I’m scared. I’m scared; they might kill me,” she said in one of the voice notes.
She also reportedly informed her employers in January she wanted to return to Ghana after telling them she was no longer interested in working for them.
Her request was, however, reportedly declined and Dia allegedly beat her for the first time that same month. He also took her to Kamal’s office where she was beaten by the latter and his employee once again.
Dia and Kamal however, denied any wrongdoing. “I paid $2,000, and I said, ‘Take it easy on us, we’ll let you travel after Ramadan,’” Dia said.
Kamal also said authorities would have shut down his office if they received reports of his agency maltreating its domestic workers. Kamal, according to Al Jazeera, told Tay she had to work for Dia for two more months to raise funds to pay for her return flight to Ghana which she agreed. When the time came for her to leave in March as agreed, Dia prevented her. She was allegedly beaten again by Dia, Kamal and his employee some days later.
“My boss beat me mercilessly yesterday [and] dis (sic) morning he took me to the office [and] I was beaten again, this is the second time they beat me up in the office,” she told This Is Lebanon, Al Jazeera further reports.
She sent more distress messages as time went by. “I’m very, very weak,” she said in one of the voice notes.
“Please, help me. Help me to go back to my country for treatment. Please, I don’t want to die here.”
Tay’s cause of death isn’t unusual among domestic workers in the Middle Eastern country which has about 250,000 people plying that trade, according to Al Jazeera. The country’s General Security intelligence agency reports that two domestic workers die each week. Just like Tay’s case, many of them fall from high-rise buildings while trying to escape. Others are also ruled as suicide.
Driven by the lack of opportunities at home, Africa’s young people travel to the Middle East in droves in search of employment. Hundreds of thousands of them are now employed throughout the region, many of them as maids.
However, reports of mistreatment and abuse of Africans by their bosses has prompted a number of countries to ban the recruitment of their citizens as domestic hires in the Middle East.
Most domestic workers from Africa get their jobs through the kafala visa sponsorship system, which requires migrant workers to seek permission from employers before relocating or changing jobs. The system ties the immigration status of a worker to the employer, giving the employer the power to repatriate them at will and even stop them from leaving the country.
Human rights groups have condemned the kafala system, describing it as a form of modern day slavery. There have been reports of domestic employees forced to work for very long periods with little or no breaks in-between. Workers are often deprived of food and other basic necessities, while being physically and verbally abused.