According to statistics obtained by IRIN news agency, the death rate of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon has doubled in the past few years. 

The latest figures come from Lebanon's General Security, the country's intelligence agency, and reveal an alarming increase in domestic worker deaths from one case per week in 2008, to two cases in 2017.  

"The bodies of 138 migrant domestic workers were repatriated between January 2016 and April this year," IRIN reports. 

"Many of the deaths are suicides or botched escape attempts in which migrant women choose to jump off buildings rather than continue working in abusive and exploitative situations," the report adds.  

Lebanon is home to around 200,000 domestic workers, most of whom migrate from Ethiopia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal to work as maids. 

Once they arrive in the country, these women are bound by the kafala system, "a sponsorship structure which links a valid immigration status to one single employer." 

Under this system, domestic workers are often subjected to many injustices and some are not even allowed to leave the house without the permission of their employers. 

Heartbreaking stories

IRIN interviewed several migrant women who relayed their heartbreaking stories.  

These women include Rahwa, a 37-year-old from Eritrea, who endured 5 years of abuse at the hands of a wealthy family she worked for in Tripoli. 

She suffered beatings from her "madam" and sexual harassment from the woman's husband. She slept on the kitchen floor throughout her time with the family and wasn't allowed to make any contact with her relatives back home. 

Following her escape, Rahwa registered as a refugee and is now informally leading a migrant workers’ church in Beirut.  

At the church, she offers help to other abused migrant workers who seek refuge there. 

Speaking of their plight, she says: “Many are going crazy. Even when they run away, they live in rooms with six or seven people stuck together. That makes you crazy too."  

No clear cut solutions yet

Even though Ethiopia has officially banned its citizens from going to work in Lebanon, many of the country's nationals come into the country on tourist visas and then stay for work.  

The work ban has been criticized by many leading NGOs in Lebanon who say that it adds to the vulnerability of migrant workers, exposing them to risks of exploitation and trafficking. 

Currently, there are no clear cut solutions to the escalating death toll among domestic workers in Lebanon, and the only organization recording death cases is KAFA, a Lebanese women’s rights group. 

Speaking to IRIN, the NGO's coordinator Maya Ammar says that even simply tallying the death toll is difficult. This is because General Security usually closes cases related to domestic workers within 24 hours, with no further investigation.  

There isn't much follow up, Ammar explains, not even by the agencies responsible for bringing domestic workers into the country in the first place.  

Even though NGOs do provide some assistance to migrant workers in Lebanon, many believe that real change will never be achieved if the current kafala system is not abolished or at least amended.  

But, according to Ammar, no changes to it seem to be possible in the near future. 

"There’s no intention at all to reconsider any aspect of the kafala system. The government and public security are convinced that it protects the worker by controlling them," she says.