Hong Kong's mechanism for checking travel documents has come under renewed scrutiny after it was revealed that local women were being trafficked to Australian brothels on fraudulent passports.
Last month, the Sunday Morning Post reported that a number of Hong Kong women were being kept in slave-like conditions in Sydney brothels. It has since emerged that many of them travelled using false documents.
According to sources close to the women, a fixer in Hong Kong arranges false passports if initial attempts to enter Australia were rebuffed by immigration there.
"It's pretty daring if you ask me, but I know of four incidents when this has occurred. The women get refused entry [to Australia], fly back to Hong Kong, change their passports and then successfully enter" Australia, said a relative of one of the women, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue.
It happens under the noses of the Australian authorities, said Chris Seage, of the advocacy group Brothel Busters.
The news comes just weeks after Interpol highlighted a "glaring gap" in aviation security because fewer than 10 countries systematically use its database to verify the authenticity of travel documents.
A spokesman for the Immigration Department refused to clarify whether the city used the database, pointing to comments from Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok that Hong Kong had "an established mechanism" for checking documents.
According to figures from the Immigration Department, 402 forged travel documents were detected at Hong Kong International Airport last year. This number is up from 335 in 2012, but down from 444 the previous year.
Higher wages and the perceived living conditions make Australia a popular destination for East Asian sex workers, according to rights group Zi Teng.
More than half of Sydney's sex workers are from the region, many from Hong Kong and South Korea, a study by the University of New South Wales found.
Although they choose to go voluntarily, the reality for many often proves to be a far cry from what they envisaged, Seage said.
"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."
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