Finding a stable, well paying job in Sri Lanka has always proven difficult and that is why many have chosen to travel abroad in search of better employment opportunities. Hiruni* was no exception. She worked in Cyprus for 12 years, but because she missed her family, she chose to return to Sri Lanka.
It did not take long however for Hiruni to realize that her minimum wage job as a security guard could not adequately provide for her family.
A further challenge was that Hiruni became a Christian during her time in Cyprus. While Sri Lanka’s population practices a variety of religions, this conversion created tension for Hiruni in her community. Hiruni ultimately decided to once again seek employment abroad.
A friend introduced Hiruni to her aunt who was living in Hong Kong, promising that she could help Hiruni find employment. The friend’s aunt asked Hiruni to pay HKD$15,500 upfront to cover all the work permit related expenses. With no means of coming up with such a large amount of money Hiruni was left with no choice but to take out a loan. After about 6 months Hiruni received her work permit. She packed her bags and embarked on her journey to Hong Kong with the hopes of providing a better life for her family.
The friend’s aunt picked Hiruni up from the airport in Hong Kong and took her directly to her new employer’s home. From the very beginning Hiruni sensed something was wrong. Over the course of her employment Hiruni’s employer consistently exploited her rights as a foreign worker but since she was unfamiliar with the law in Hong Kong, Hiruni was completely unaware of her rights. Hiruni’s employer demanded that she sleep in the living room, providing only a blanket. During mealtimes Hiruni was given a few pieces of Naan bread and her drinking water was rationed by her employer who explained that she was concerned about increasing the water bill. Hiruni was never compensated for her work in her employer’s household. Instead, her employer contracted her out to three other families and demanded she turn over the wages she received from them. Her employer then used these wages to pay Hiruni.
After a few months, Hiruni gathered the courage to confront her employer. Her employer confiscated her passport and identification card in retaliation. Five months into Hiruni’s stay, tensions between her and her employer rose and the employer finally decided to terminate the employment contract and returned Hiruni’s passport and identification documents. Hiruni had grown so fearful and distressed by her experience with her employer that she was reluctant to return to the employer’s house even when they notified her to pick up her plane ticket back to Sri Lanka.
Hiruni knew she could not return to Sri Lanka due to the tensions she faced back home in her community for converting to Christianity but she only had a two weeks to find new employment or risk being deported[i]. Feeling vulnerable and with nowhere to go, Hiruni went to the Hong Kong Immigration Office to seek political asylum and surrendered her passport to them.
[i] (Hong Kong Immigration law allow 2 weeks for migrant domestic workers to seek new employment in Hong Kong if they quit or are fired from their previous jobs,)
*All names and identifying information have been changed to protect the identity of the victims.
Indicator of trafficking for labour exploitation:
- Deceptive Recruitment – agency deliberately concealed the nature and duties of the job
- Exploitation – poor living conditions; unpaid wages; no food allowance provided
- Restriction of movement – passport and identity card were confiscated
- Forced labour- she had to work in three other households without her consent.
- Abuse of vulnerability – Due to lack of money and understanding of Hong Kong local laws the individual must rely on the exploiter
Are you or someone you know being trafficked?
Is human trafficking happening in your community? Recognising 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 report suspected cases of human trafficking in Hong Kong, please contact us at connect@100storiesHK.org.
Story provided by Stop Trafficking of People (STOP).