50 year-old Nimasha* is from Sri Lanka and is the sole breadwinner for her family of 4. Both her husband and grown daughter are very ill with high medical expenditures and are physically and mentally unable to work. Her young grandson also relies on her income to go to school. When Nimasha found out about job opportunities abroad as a migrant domestic worker at a Sri Lankan agency, she jumped at the opportunity. She did not have an inkling of how much turmoil such a decision would soon throw her life into.
The agency painted an attractive picture to Nimasha about her would-be job in Hong Kong: she would care for a family of 6 which consisted of a grandma, parents and 3 children, alongside a Filipino helper, and be responsible for the upkeep of the house etc. Excited for the chance to better support her family, Nimasha borrowed a large sum of money from friends and acquaintances to cover all her expenses. This included a very expensive agency fee and flight ticket. She never signed any contract with the agency, and later discovered that they had forged her signature onto one without her consent.
Upon arrival in Hong Kong, her passport was taken away by her employer, who turned out to be a hot-tempered, bedridden, middle aged woman. Immediately, her new employer, Cecil searched all of Nimasha’s belongings and checked her phone whilst video recording everything. She then made Nimasha give her a massage for 2 hours straight, not allowing her a drink of water or to refresh herself. When she asked to rest, Nimasha was shouted at for not being hard-working enough.
“You didn’t come here to drink water or sleep. You come here to work.”
Nimasha tried to tell her Hong Kong agency about her situation, but was told to go back to her employer. The next few days, Nimasha had to massage Cecil for 14-15 hours daily, from 9pm every night until 11am or 12pm the next day without rest. She was only allowed to sleep during the day. Whenever her arms grew tired, Cecil would yell at Nimasha for slacking. Nimasha also spoke of the lack of privacy in the house, even when she was eating or sleeping, as there were security cameras everywhere.
On top of that, she had to carry heavy buckets of water to and fro for Cecil’s baths. This greatly hurt her back and caused Nimasha to limp everywhere. This incident prompted Nimasha to call the police who sent her to the hospital and was then told by the doctor to rest a little. However, Cecil’s brother, confiscated all the hospital documents – taking them out of her bag without her permission. Nimasha went to the agency again to report the incident but was told to return to her employer. She did, and thus endured more scolding.
Nimasha, weary and still in pain, finally decided to leave her employer’s a few days later. Nimasha’s hopeful venture ended in less than a month’s time. Although her job did not work out, the debts acquired before her coming to Hong Kong have been increasing daily due to the high interests her friends charge. Nimasha tearfully recounted how her husband has to endure harassment from those friends daily, demanding payback of the money. Her loved ones are also low on funds and have not been able to buy sufficient medications or daily sustenance.
“I always thought why did I come to HK and push myself into such trouble” said Nimasha desperately.
Today, all Nimasha wishes for is some monetary compensation for the trials she endured at the hands of the Sri Lankan agency and her employer, Cecil, so that she can send the money back to her family in need.
*All names and identifying information have been changed to to protect the identity of the survivors.
Indicators of trafficking for labour exploitation:
- Deceptive recruitment – Nimasha was deceived about the nature of the job and the number of people served.
- Exploitation – excessive working hours and poor working conditions.
- Coercion at destination – her personal documents were confiscated and surveillance.
- Abuse of vulnerability – dependency on exploiters due to economic reasons and family situation.
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).