Elim* was a big man standing at over 6 feet, with broad shoulders and a confident gait. Despite his size, he was soft-spoken and gentle. Elim was from East Africa, living about 9 hours outside the capital of his home country. In a region marked with war, he had a relatively stable life living in a rural town of a country that has avoided any major conflicts during his lifetime. He spent his youth helping out on the family farm. As he got older, and began to feel the pressure of having to provide for his 2 young daughters, he decided to look for work overseas. He was able to find a job in the Middle East, working for a large corporation where he worked in the hospitality industry. He was happy to be able to provide for his family and send his daughters to a good school.
After this contract ended, Elim returned to Africa with the hopes of finding another overseas contract. He went back to the agent who arranged his Middle East contract, and at first was told that there was nothing available. A week later, the agent called back and said that they had found someone with a connection in Hong Kong, and they were looking for men to work in the construction industry. This recruiter sent Elim’s agent a vague offer letter from an official sounding company that included accommodations and benefits, and when Elim inquired about the details, the recruiter told him not to worry because she would arrange everything for him. Because she was introduced to him by his agent who had successfully arranged his previous contract, Elim decided to trust her.
The recruiter required an up-front payment of US$2,500 (approximately HK$20,000) in order to arrange air travel and work permits, and so Elim made the decision to sell his share of the family land in order to pay her, believing that he would quickly make back the money. He also borrowed US$1,000 (about HK$7,700) from a local loan shark for his personal expenses before he would get his first month’s pay check. The recruiter was savvy, sending Elim a flight itinerary as well as booking confirmations for a boutique hotel in Hong Kong. However, had he looked at the fine print, he would have realised that the hotel booking was never paid for. He received only a one-way ticket to Hong Kong and, packing only a small carry-on bag, prepared to board the flight.
At the airport, Elim met a young woman who was also recruited by the same person to work in Hong Kong. They were both filled with hope, and relief, as they began their journey to an unknown future. They arrived in Hong Kong and were given 3-month visitor’s visas. However, things began to slowly unravel soon after their arrival. They had expected to be picked up but when there was no one, they called the recruiter back in Africa. She gave them the number of her associate in Hong Kong, an African man named Brandon. After several more calls, they received instructions from Brandon to go to Chungking Mansions in TST. There, they met another one of Brandon’s associates who helped them get a room in one of the guesthouses in Chungking. Elim had to pay for this (about HK$400/night) with his own money, despite being told in the beginning that all of his accommodations would be paid for. Over the next week, Elim continued to pay for accommodations and food for himself and his new friend, because she had brought nothing with her.
Only after 3 days did Brandon finally show up to see them in Chungking Mansions. He then asked for money from both Elim and the young woman, taking US$300 from Elim and US$500 from her. He told them that there were changes to both their promised work contracts, and they would have to wait for him to arrange other jobs for them. About 5 days later, Brandon returned with a South Asian man and instructed Elim to pay him US$100 because the man will help with arranging his new job. This man took Elim to a scrap yard in Kam Tin, and told him that he would now be working there. He showed Elim a shipping container that had been converted into a dormitory, and said that will be where he will sleep, sharing the space with 7-8 other men. Elim had come to the realisation that there was never a job for him in Hong Kong and he had been conned. He spent the next week doing odd jobs – picking up scrap metal, washing a car – in order to receive one meagre meal a day. During this time, he stayed in touch with his new friend, who was still at Chungking Mansions. One day, she told him that she had met someone who offered to help, and could help him too. With this glimmer of hope, Kevin packed up his belongings and walked out of the gated scrap yard.
Now, with assistance from STOP, Elim has been able to file a fraud case with the police, and receive basic living assistance. However, shelter spaces are very limited in Hong Kong, especially for men, and Elim does not know how long he can rely on the NGO.
*All names and identifying information have been changed to to protect the identity of the survivors.
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Story provided by the STOP (Stop Trafficking of People).