Two Thai women lured to Hong Kong with the promise of well-paid jobs but forced to work in a brothel made a daring escape last week, hiding at the airport before being rescued by Thai officials.
Local police appear to have played no part in their rescue.
Their ordeal started earlier this month after they met another Thai woman, believed to be 38, in Thailand. She offered them an all-expenses paid trip to Hong Kong to work as masseuses for HK$22,500 a month - a big sum by Thai standards.
Isra and Ratana (not their real names) accepted the offer and landed at Chek Lap Kok airport on July 4.
They were taken to an address identified as a "massage parlour" in Yau Ma Tei, where their modest dream became a nightmare. Shocked by the dirty, cramped conditions in the brothel, they tried to leave but staff threatened to beat them and to report them to police for working illegally on visitors' visas.
Isra and Ratana were told they could not leave until they either repaid the cost of their air fares or had sex with scores of men. Fearing for their lives and with no money, they worked from 7am to 2am, having sex with men paying HK$160 per session.
Other Thai women worked in the brothel, alongside mainlanders and women from Vietnam and Russia.
Two days later, the pair managed to escape, but with no money or identification. They hid at the airport for three days with little hope of returning home until they called the Pavena Foundation for Children and Women in Bangkok, a non-profit organisation that was started by Thai Social Development and Human Security Minister Pavena Hongsakul.
That led to a series of calls to Thai foreign affairs officials and to the Thai consulate in Hong Kong.
Thai consul Khanthong Nuanual said: "We received a call, and we were able to get in touch with the women. We sent our car to pick them up at the airport and then brought them back to the consulate."
Consular staff interviewed Isra and Ratana before buying them airline tickets back to Thailand, where police are investigating the matter and preparing charges.
Khanthong said the case was complicated because it involved two jurisdictions, but that Thai police had acted quickly because Isra and Ratana were willing to testify. "We don't often get women who are willing to come forward because it is so dangerous," he said.
The alleged trafficker and her co-conspirators have yet to be arrested, but Hong Kong police say they have no information on the case.
The two victims are now under police protection following threats made against them and their families.
According to Phoebe Lam Bik-che, a social worker at Caritas Hong Kong who has dealt with similar human trafficking cases, few of the Thai victims were referred to her organisation by the consulate.
She said all the Thai trafficking victims that Caritas had helped were referred by the Hong Kong police's organised crime and triad bureau.
She said some consulates worked through the International Organisation for Migration to obtain air tickets for victims.
A bureau officer, who deals with human trafficking cases, said police would investigate if they were given more details of the incident.
A recent US government report on human trafficking described Hong Kong as a destination and transit point for the trade in people and called on the government to introduce a comprehensive anti-trafficking law.