Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Terrorism won when America declared holy war

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 September, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 September, 2006, 12:00am

Terrorism won the war not on September 11 five years ago but in the weeks that followed, as US President George W. Bush turned a criminal act into a holy war. When he declared a 'crusade' against terrorists and warned that countries were 'either for or against' the US in this new war, he raised Osama bin Laden and his followers to the status of enemy heroes.

The illegal invasion of Iraq, based on trumped-up evidence, exposed Mr Bush's new crusade for what it was - a virulent reassertion of US military power, in which might would replace not only right but reason. Subsequent excesses in fighting the 'war on terror' cost the US what little moral authority it retained, as Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and 'black sites' into which abducted suspects disappeared became the image of America.

The inability to win the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq has provided unexpected additional support to those who now believe that a fundamentalist Islam can conquer the world. Iraq is a terrorist training ground whose repercussions will be felt for years, whatever the ultimate outcome in that unfortunate country.

The arrogant, unilateral and ultimately counterproductive 'war' launched by the Bush administration has made it more difficult for the US to act successfully on other fronts. North Korea and Iran do pose dangers, but US leadership is automatically suspect. The US is right to call for more robust intervention to stop the killing in Darfur, but what developing country is going to support yet another intervention by the Americans, no matter how justified?

President Bush will leave a legacy that will be with us for decades - a legacy of war, unilateralism, arrogance, blind ideological self-delusion and incompetence. In the weeks that followed 9/11, the attention of the world shifted from issues of poverty, human rights, the environment and economic development to focus on the ravings of a little-known crackpot in the hills of Afghanistan.

We cannot forget that those who died on 9/11 and later in Bali, Madrid and London were killed by delusional lunatics who deserve to be caught and punished. But we cannot begin to address the disastrous consequences of a war without end declared by President Bush and his cronies until we recognise that fanaticism was followed by avoidable folly. Undoing that folly will require decades, but only by admitting mistakes can we begin to reverse the victory the terrorists have achieved.


Passport to belonging

In his Observer column 'Exorcising the 'foreign' bogeyman' (September 7), Frank Ching writes: 'Hong Kong needs to be a place where one's race is irrelevant.'

Like many Americans, I am fed up with President George W. Bush, to the extent that I called the Immigration Department the other day and asked about obtaining a Hong Kong passport.

'No way,' I was told, laughingly. 'You're not Chinese.'

True, but I am a resident of 21 years, have the right of abode and pay taxes, so it would be nice to see this racial rule change.

DON ELLIS, Clear Water Bay

Green opportunity

The government has the best opportunity now to invest in Hong Kong's future generations by not opening up the restricted border zone to greedy property developers ('No free-for-all if border zone opens', September 8).

The best investment, of course, would be to turn the entire region into a new country park, protecting the flora and fauna that flourish there in an environmentally friendly and serene setting.

CHRIS H.H. LIM, Taikoo Shing

Our domestic shame

Hong Kong has witnessed many remarkable advances over the years, but one important change is still required before it can become a civilised society where all may live and work happily: it needs to start treating foreign domestic workers equally.

Domestic helpers often work more than 16 hours a day for unscrupulous employers who exploit the discriminatory nature of the law. In effect, many live in semi-slavery and most abuses go unreported because the law offers little protection.

Despite the enormous contribution they make to Hong Kong's families and society's prosperity (can you imagine coping without them?), they are treated like second-class citizens.

While it is true that Hong Kong treats foreign domestic helpers better than many other Asian countries do, this is no excuse for the injustices to continue.


Victims of the system

After many years' voluntary work for a domestic helper support group, I am only too well aware of the different treatment accorded to various sections of the community by, in particular, the Immigration Department.

I was recently concerned with the case of a foreign domestic helper who arrived in Hong Kong in early September last year. She had the misfortune to be placed with an employer who made her work at several homes and his office - and then terminated her contract after just 11 days on some flimsy pretext.

She gave a full and frank account of her illegal deployment to the Immigration Department in a series of statements - and was immediately treated as the one primarily responsible for breaching immigration controls.

Someone in her situation ought not to be regarded as a wrongdoer, as the employer put her in the terrible position of either immediately reporting him (and losing a job for which she'd paid an employment agency dearly) or putting up with a situation to which she did not consent.

The department's practices do nothing to encourage helpers to seek its assistance. A helper who reports such deployment still risks prosecution and the likelihood of, at least, a prolonged period of uncertainty. For the helper who has no family support system in Hong Kong, nowhere to live and no income, since she is precluded from working, the situation is a grotesque nightmare.

When I made inquiries to the department about this case in early July, this helper had already been kept on 'recognisance' for more than nine months. No charge had been brought and nothing appeared to be happening. The department finally told her she could go home early last month, with neither an explanation nor an apology.

For nearly 11 months, this blameless woman was condemned by the administrative power of the Immigration Department to live effectively in an open prison, her life consigned to limbo. She could send nothing home to support her young daughter and aged mother, since she was banned from working. That she was able to survive at all was due to the charity provided by our Christian churches.

But the Immigration Department is not the least concerned about the human suffering it inflicts in the name of 'doing its job'. This case reveals that abuse of human rights by the agencies of the state can take subtle and disguised forms.

Migrant-worker umbrella groups have appealed to the authorities time and time again to adopt a more understanding approach to the plight of domestic helpers who are coerced into illegal work.

It seems, however, that our pleas fall on deaf ears.


Cartoon in poor taste

Was Harry's cartoon on Friday of a policeman collecting a bulletproof vest in good taste? (September 8). I certainly didn't laugh.

If one of your reporters was on light office duties due to work-induced stress, went into a crisis, crashed his car in circumstances that suggested a suicide attempt (or at least a call for help) and then - instead of being placed under immediate and direct medical/psychiatric observation - escaped the care of his family and ended up wounding a colleague who tried to help him, would you be publishing a cartoon of this? I doubt it.

You may argue that it is appropriate to draw attention to problems within a public service. Correct. But to do so in such an insensitive manner should be beneath the standards of your newspaper.


No joking matter

I found Harry's cartoon on Friday to be in extremely poor taste. Law enforcement can be a very stressful occupation, and a massive body of evidence has been accumulated showing that police officers are at particularly high risk of psychological illness, addictive behaviour, divorce and suicide. Moreover, the resources available in Hong Kong to deal with officers at risk are appallingly inadequate. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that incidents such as the one the cartoon made fun of happen from time to time.

Does the South China Morning Post really find it amusing? I certainly don't, and I don't think many police officers will, either. We have all had colleagues at one time or another who have fallen victim to the stresses of the job.

TONY GILES, Clear Water Bay


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