Locked Up

BEIRUT, Oct 23, 2007 (AFP) – Locked up and cut off from her family for nine years, without even a penny for the endless scrubbing and washing up, Siriani knew it was time to flee or, as she says, die. Like thousands of Filipinas, Sri Lankans, Nepalese or Ethiopians, Siriani came to Beirut at the age of 20 as a house maid — a must-have in the image-conscious country.

“I put up with it praying for things to get better, but then I had enough, I had to run away or I’d die,” she told AFP in a shelter in the Lebanese capital run by Caritas Lebanon — the Roman Catholic non-profit organisation that seeks to protect migrant workers’ rights.

Siriani, who is from Sri Lanka and did not want to give her real name for fear of retribution, has been staying in the shelter with dozens of runaway African and Asian maids, who are waiting to obtain their unpaid wages and a ticket home.

She said her employers’ teenage son took pity on her and helped her run away two months ago.

“The madame and her husband were not home. The boy gave me a little money and told me to buy him chocolate. I did not know where to go, I had only seen the inside of my employers’ Beirut house and holiday home in the country.”