In the midst of the many Africans who have found themselves in Hong Kong, mainly due to violent conflicts and unspeakable trauma experienced in their home countries, Victoria’s* story is unique. She grew up in East Africa, in a country that has stayed relatively peaceful during her short lifetime of 19 years. She grew up in a village away from the big city, surrounded by her family.
As she had just finished school, she was looking for a job to begin contributing to her family. She soon heard about a woman who helped people find work overseas. This woman lived in their village, and in those communities, everyone trusted each other. Victoria was told by this woman that a recruiter had contacted her recently looking for people to work in Hong Kong. The job sounded attractive: a full time cleaning job with standard hours, good pay, and the recruiter even told her that room and board would be provided. She showed Victoria an offer letter, which to her seemed very proper and official-looking. She had no reason to doubt the recruiter, despite the details being vague on the offer letter.
After some discussion with her family, Victoria’s mother decided that it was a good opportunity for her to earn money for the family, and they began to find ways to come up with the money that the recruiter asked for (a total of about US$3500). This was an incredibly large sum for them, but they were reassured that Victoria would be able to send home a lot of money. In the end, her mother sold all their goats, as well as borrowed from different local loan sharks.
The recruiter was savvy, sending Victoria a full return flight itinerary as well as booking confirmations for a boutique hotel in Hong Kong. However, she only received a one-way ticket to Hong Kong. Every time they asked about details, the recruiter would tell them not to worry, that everything would be taken care of by the company once she arrived.
At the airport, Victoria met a man 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. Since Victoria had not brought any money with her, her new friend had to pay for this (about HK$400/night) with his own money, despite being told in the beginning that all of their accommodations would be provided for. Over the next week, Victoria’s friend continued to pay for accommodations and food for them while they waited cluelessly for their promised jobs.
Only after 3 days did Brandon finally show up to see them in Chungking Mansions. He then asked for money from both Victoria and the man. When Victoria told him that she had no money, he made her call her mother immediately and ask her to send US$500 via Western Union. When he got the money, he paid for one week’s accommodations for Victoria in a guest house. He then 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. Over the course of the next week, Brandon would intermittently text Victoria with different job offers, all of which she refused because she now knew they would all be illegal. She spent her days mostly in her small room in the guest house, and only occasionally coming out to wander the chaotic corridors of Chungking Mansions to get food. She recognised that there was plenty of illegal activity going on all around, and especially noticed some of women who worked at night, and felt extremely uncomfortable.
On one fateful day, when she was sitting alone eating at a small diner, a man who also spoke Swahili began talking to her. Somehow, she felt he was harmless and told him what she was doing in Hong Kong. He immediately recognised that something was wrong and contacted an NGO for help. They were able to connect with her the next day.
With assistance from anti-human trafficking organization in Hong Kong, Victoria received basic living assistance, was connected with a human right law firm, and was eventually able to move to a safe house for trafficked women. She has been able to file a fraud claim against Brandon with the Hong Kong police, and is in a safe place while she waits for the investigation.
*All names and identifying information have been changed to to protect the identity of the survivors.
Are you or someone you know being trafficked?
Is human trafficking happening in your community? Recognizing potential red flags and knowing the indicators of human trafficking is a key step in identifying more victims and helping them find the assistance they need.
To reach out or get help for suspected cases of human trafficking in Hong Kong, please contact us at connect@100storiesHK.org.
Story provided by Stop Trafficking of People (STOP).