Dismembered Woman's Body Parts Found in Duffel Bag Left on Street

A bag containing dismembered body parts has been found on a street in Beirut, as speculation over the victim's identity sparked renewed outrage over the abuse of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon.

The black duffel bag, which held a woman's limbs, was found in front of a bank in the Lebanese capital on Saturday, according to media reports. Police reportedly cordoned off the area as they scanned it for more human remains. Graphic photos purporting to show the bag and its contents were shared by social media users and Arabic-language news outlets.

Lebanon's Internal Security Forces later identified the victim as a Bangladeshi national and declared her husband, also from Bangladesh, a suspect. They added that the investigation was still ongoing.

Initial Arabic-language news reports had said the victim was an Ethiopian domestic worker. This has spurred horror among local activists, who pointed to the longstanding abuse of migrant domestic workers facilitated by the country's sponsorship system, which has been compared to modern-day slavery.

Lebanon's "kafala" system excludes foreign workers from the country's labor laws, instead tying their residency in the country to their employers. This leaves domestic workers particularly vulnerable to entrapment, exploitation and abuse.

Rights groups have documented Lebanese employers, doubling as sponsors, confiscating migrant domestic workers' passports and cell phones, imprisoning them in the home, overworking them, starving them, withholding salaries, as well as subjecting them to physical abuse.

Anti-Racism Movement (ARM), a Lebanese NGO, found at least 14 murders of domestic workers to have taken place in Lebanon since April 2020, with 11 of the victims being Ethiopian women. Advocacy and Communications Officer Farah Baba said the organization's data was limited due to scarce news reports.

"Given the huge number of migrant workers in Lebanon and the total impunity of employers, we expect the number of murders is much higher," she told Newsweek.

Human Rights Watch estimates 250,000 migrant domestic workers are employed in Lebanon, with the majority being from African and Asian countries.

"[Employers] usually throw them out of balconies, they hang them, they shoot them or beat them to death," said Baba.

She continued: "Most of the time, murders of migrant domestic workers are covered up by employers and authorities in Lebanon by claiming that they were suicides to stop the investigation."

Baba labeled those claims as "lies," stating domestic workers have reported abuse to hotlines set up by ARM and other organizations prior to their untimely deaths.

Last year, the body of Faustina Tay, a 23-year-old Ghanaian domestic worker, was found in a parking area under her employer's Beirut home. According to Al Jazeera, Tay had on multiple occasions reached out to an activist group and her brother in Ghana before she died.

In her messages, she detailed the physical abuse she has endured, sending photos of her injuries and expressing fear for her life. The men she named as her abusers—her employer and two men at the recruitment agency that hired her—denied ever assaulting her.

Multiple other Arab countries uphold "kafala" systems of their own. These include Jordan and Gulf Cooperation Council nations such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE.

Update (4/13/2020, 3:10 a.m.): This article has been updated to include the findings by Lebanon's Internal Security Forces.

Migrant domestic workers protest in Lebanon
Migrant domestic workers carry signs during a protest in the Lebanese capital Beirut on May 5, 2019, to call for the abolishment of the sponsorship (kafala) system and for the inclusion of domestic workers in Lebanese labor laws. ANWAR AMRO/Getty Images