Hong Kong women are being kept in slave-like conditions in Australian brothels and some local travel agencies are facilitating the abuse, according to media reports and advocacy groups.
Late last month, an investigation by The Sydney Morning Herald found that a number of Hong Kong women are entrapped in Sydney brothels, where they have to work up to 20 hours a day and take illegal drugs with customers.
It was the latest in a series of articles that have cast a shadow on Hong Kong's anti-human-trafficking regime, including a damning report last month by the Justice Centre Hong Kong and Liberty Asia, which slammed the city's "narrow and fragmented" human-trafficking laws.
The women are brought to Australia on tourist visas obtained via Hong Kong travel agencies, some of which experts suspect are complicit.
"Travel agencies are the perfect front. They have the semblance of legality and are probably registered in one way, but they do a lot more," said one human-trafficking expert who declined to be named.
Upon arrival, women are brought to brothels where they are forced to work around the clock and take crystal meth - also known as Ice - with their clients, according to the Herald report.
The investigation follows separate reports in the Australian media on how Asian sex workers in Sydney are pressured to have unprotected oral sex amid intense industry competition. Rather than see a doctor, the sex workers choose to self-medicate with drugs imported from Hong Kong, Sydney tabloid The Sun-Herald reported.
More than half of Sydney's sex workers are from Asia, with many from Hong Kong and South Korea, a study by the University of New South Wales found.
The syndicates behind the trafficking apply for study visas for the women, knowing that the process - including appeals - can take up to two years and leaves enough time for the women to be swallowed up by the criminal underworld.
According to Chris Seage of Australian advocacy group Brothel Busters, many of the women go voluntarily but under false pretences.
"The women understood they would be working in the sex industry. They were told they would massage rich men, make lots of money and enjoy the Sydney lifestyle of beaches, cafes and great weather," Seage said. "But what did they get? Sixteen-hour days, drug addiction, living and sleeping on mattresses in the brothel and restricted freedom."
The women are also obliged to pay off the costs of their flight, plus the A$15,000 (HK$109,000) study-visa fee, Seage said.
Similar exploitation happens in Hong Kong, women's rights group Zi Teng says.
The Hong Kong police had not replied to questions as of press time.