The COVID-19 pandemic has put Hong Kong’s trafficking survivors and domestic workers especially at risk of re-trafficking and forced labor.
Businesses cutting back on workers and working hours have thrown many into limbo with job losses and economic hardship, and the need to make ends meet is pushing vulnerable workers into precarious and potentially dangerous working conditions.
Writing in the South China Morning Post, Jacqueline Au, research and policy officer at Stop Trafficking of People (STOP), explains:
Survivors of human trafficking in Hong Kong are also struggling in these circumstances. At Stop Trafficking of People (STOP), a local anti-trafficking initiative, we have observed a sharp increase in anxiety, insomnia and suicidal tendencies among survivors.
Factors contributing to this include survivors’ increasingly dire financial situations, delayed legal cases, disrupted repatriation schedules and prolonged family separation. Since few have legal status to work in Hong Kong, most are staying indoors with little to take their minds off their traumatic memories of exploitation.
Migrant domestic workers are another group hit hard by this pandemic. A survey of 1,127 migrant domestic workers by the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body revealed a range of challenges that exposed workers to unfair treatment or exploitation.
According to the survey, some workers were told to stay at home on their rest days, on occasion under threat of termination, and in other cases, employers who lost their jobs asked migrant domestic workers to work without pay or take unpaid leave.
Migrant domestic workers are unable to benefit from Hong Kong’s relief measures and STOP reports that some of them have been pushed into debt traps in order to have some money to take care of themselves and their families.
Today, on World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, Au reminds us to remember the communities who are facing extremely difficult circumstances due to the pandemic. As Hong Kong sees a new wave of infections, the pressure on trafficking survivors and domestic workers to survive in the city will grow even greater.
“Now, more than ever, we need to stay vigilant against the exploitation and potential trafficking of vulnerable populations,” says Au.
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