Authorities in Delhi are to investigate the death of an Indian domestic servant who died in transit from the Middle East after she lost her passport and was forced to spend five nights sleeping in an airport.
Officials from India’s foreign ministry are to fly to Muscat, Oman, amid allegations that the local Indian embassy did nothing to help the woman after she became stranded. Reports say doctors believe Beebi Lumada, 40, who may have been suffering from a mental illness, died from a heart-attack triggered by stress.
A war of words has broken out since the death of Ms Lumada a week ago. While India has pointed the finger of blame at the Omani airport authorities and the airline which refused to allow the woman to board the flight to India, police in Muscat have said Indian officials did nothing to help the woman replace her lost documents.
“The foreign minister has said that a senior official will go to Muscat. After the high-ranking official returns, we will know more,” a foreign ministry spokesman said last night. “At the moment, all there is are media reports.”
Ms Lumada was apparently making her way home to southern India from Muscat where she had been working as a servant, her employment reportedly coming to an end because of emotional difficulties she had been facing. Her visa for Oman had been cancelled and she boarded a flight from Muscat for Doha in Qatar where she was due to catch a connecting flight to Chennai.
However, while on the flight to Doha she lost her passport. Officials with Qatar airways said that without her passport she was unable to be admitted for the flight on to Chennai and so, according to airline policy, was flown back to Muscat. However, when she arrived at Muscat without her passport and with her visa cancelled she was not permitted to reenter the country.
Ms Lumada reportedly spent the next five nights in the airport’s transit area, with Qatar Airways providing her with food and bedding. However, last Friday, Ms Lumada suffered what was described as a seizure and died after medics rushed her to the city’s Ibn Sina hospital.
India has accused both Qatar Airways and the authorities at Muscat Airport of negligence. The minister for overseas Indian affairs, Vayalar Ravi, told Indian media: “The airport and airline authorities should have been more responsible. Valid papers are necessary but not more than a person’s life.”
But police at Muscat airport said the Indian Embassy failed to help Ms Lumada by failing to quickly provide her with a temporary passport. “We informed the Indian Embassy on Monday to issue her a temporary passport to travel back to India. We reminded them the next day and the day after, but each time they said they were doing it but did not do it,” an unidentified officer told The National newspaper.
“If they acted fast enough, she would have probably been back home alive since last week.”
There is no precise data on the total number of workers from South Asia employed in Gulf countries millions of labourers from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh travel there for years on end. Such workers have virtually no rights and employment conditions are often appalling.
Human rights campaigners have demanded an investigation into the death of Ms Lumada, whose body has been returned to India. “The Omani authorities must launch an investigation into her death,” said Amnesty International. “[We are] concerned that despite recent amendments to the 2003 labour law establishing legal rights to workers, domestic workers, many of whom were foreign migrants and women, are not covered by the law and lack adequate legal protection.”