The body of a Ghanaian domestic worker was discovered less than a day after she pleaded for help with escaping from her abusive employers.
Faustina Tay, 23, was found dead in a parking lot underneath her employers’ fourth-story home in the suburbs of Beirut, Lebanon, between 3 and 4 a.m. on March 14, according to Al Jazeera. A forensic doctor noted there were “no marks of physical assault” and determined Tay died “as a result of falling from a high place and crashing into a solid body.”
Tay’s death is being investigated as a suicide, but the week before her death she sent desperate messages to her brother and others begging for help. She had traveled to live in Lebanon under the kafala system, which ties a worker’s immigration status to their employer. Domestic workers from Africa and Asia, mostly women, enroll in the system and travel to the Middle East to provide for their families and seek what they hope to be better opportunities. Instead, they are often abused by employers, who control every aspect of their lives.
The day before Tay died, she had sent a message to This Is Lebanon, an anti-kafala activist group, saying, “God please help me,”
Before she went to Lebanon, Tay was a small business owner who sold noodles in Accra, Ghana. When she told her brother Joshua Demanya she wanted to go to Lebanon, he was against it “because there have been stories of people who go there and suffer so much they run away.”
Tay went anyway and arrived in Lebanon in May 2019. She worked for Hussein Dia and his family for 10 months before she died. She would describe her living conditions as abysmal. Tay slept on a couch in Dia’s kitchen and worked long hours without any days off. She often went to bed at 2 a.m. and had to wake up at 8 a.m.
In messages to This Is Lebanon, Tay claimed she received two beatings from Dia and Ali Kamal, who owned the agency responsible for her employment. She sent pictures to Demanya showing injuries to her hand, a scratch under her eye and a tissue used to clean a bloody nose.
She knew speaking out about the abuse was risky. Tay was afraid her phone would be confiscated and the abuse would escalate.
“I’m scared. I’m scared they might kill me,” she said in a voice message.
Dia told Al Jazeera he “never laid a hand” on Tay. Kamal claimed “the state would have closed us a long time ago” if his agency abused his workers.
The kafala system has many critics who believe it is just another form of exploitation. Kafala workers are not protected by Lebanese labor laws, which places them at the mercy of their bosses. Last year, Amnesty International called the practice “inherently abusive” and released a report based on interviews with 32 domestics. The findings were damning.
Twenty-seven of them had their passports taken, while 10 of them were locked in their employers’ homes while the employers were not there. Fourteen of them never got days off, and only four of them had private rooms. According to the report, Ethiopian women made up the majority of workers who were issued employment permits in 2018. Lebanon gave out 144,986 permits to Ethiopian women that year, while 1,384 permits were issued to Ghanaian women.