Experts wary of tensions as maid's appeal date nears
With the Court of Appeal set next week to hear the right of abode case of a Filipino maid, the city's top human rights watchdogs have raised worries that the government's appeal may stoke ethnic tensions, and called for calm from the public once the judgment is handed down.
The government's appeal against the ruling in favour of Evangeline Banao Vallejos will be heard on February 21.
'Given recent events, we wonder if a verdict in favour of Ms Vallejos would trigger ethnic hatred. We want to address this so that it does not happen,' Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, a social policy professor at Polytechnic University, said at a forum on right of abode issues yesterday.
Dr Cheung's view was supported by Law Yuk-kai of the Human Rights Monitor; Equal Opportunities Commission chairman Lam Woon-kwong; Vallejos' lawyer, Mark Daly; and Doris Lee of Open Doors, a group of employers of foreign helpers.
'[Daly] meets the criteria [for residency] and so do the domestic helpers ... there should be no discriminatory arrangements,' Law said.
The issue of granting foreign helpers abode ignited a public outcry over jobs and fears it would further strain the city's medical and public housing systems. A similar furore has erupted in recent weeks over the issue of mainland mothers giving birth in Hong Kong and the behaviour of visitors from the mainland.
Representatives of a maids' group told the forum about being verbally harassed by market vendors after High Court Judge Johnson Lam Man-hon, sitting in the Court of First Instance, ruled in favour of Vallejos in September.
'They yelled at us, saying we were coming to take away their jobs,' said Mia, a Nepali helper.
About 125,000 domestic helpers who have lived in Hong Kong for seven years or more would be entitled to permanent residency, the government estimates. If each has a spouse and two children, that number will reach 500,000, it says.
But Daly lashed out at the authorities over the figures, saying 'myths' should not be used to make decisions. He cited a small study by non-government groups showing that most foreign maids did not have dependents who would meet the criteria for right of abode.
Daly and the other panelists at the forum insisted that maids would not be a strain on public resources and were helping Hongkongers care for their children and the elderly. 'There are 300,000 families directly benefiting from their presence,' Lam said.
Government estimates have been wide of the mark before. After a landmark ruling by the Court of Final Appeal in 1999 that gave certain mainland children the right of abode, the government predicted that 1.67 million mainlanders would flock to the city. But since then only about 145,000 mainland children have reunited with parents in Hong Kong.
Daly added that Vallejos had yet to receive her Hong Kong ID card, pending the case. The Immigration Department said they were waiting on a Registration of Persons Tribunal to set a date for the card's release.