Survivors of human trafficking in Hong Kong are struggling amid the Covid-19 pandemic, with a sharp increase in anxiety, insomnia and suicidal tendencies as their cases are delayed. Photo: Xiaomei Chen
Survivors of human trafficking in Hong Kong are struggling amid the Covid-19 pandemic, with a sharp increase in anxiety, insomnia and suicidal tendencies as their cases are delayed. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

Letters | Coronavirus pandemic bodes ill for Hong Kong’s trafficking survivors and domestic workers

  • As the pandemic rages on, increased economic hardship and declining living and working conditions provide ripe conditions for forced labour and human trafficking to flourish

Topic |   Human trafficking
Survivors of human trafficking in Hong Kong are struggling amid the Covid-19 pandemic, with a sharp increase in anxiety, insomnia and suicidal tendencies as their cases are delayed. Photo: Xiaomei Chen
Survivors of human trafficking in Hong Kong are struggling amid the Covid-19 pandemic, with a sharp increase in anxiety, insomnia and suicidal tendencies as their cases are delayed. Photo: Xiaomei Chen
From travel bans to forced business closures and social restrictions, the economic fallout from Covid-19 has left a slew of casualties in its wake. Globally, nations are dipping into one of the deepest recessions in years. In Hong Kong, unemployment rates have skyrocketed to an over 15-year high of
6.2 per cent
in April-June.
As reports continue to
flood in
about large-scale company retrenchments, business closures, workers having their hours reduced or forced to take no-pay leave, many employers and employees are likely to be wondering if they will make it through unscathed.
Increased economic hardship and declining living and working conditions provide ripe conditions for forced labour and
human trafficking
to flourish. Disruptions to global supply chains have already led to widespread income and job losses for millions of workers. Reduced mobility and limited access to essential services further exacerbate the everyday hardships of at-risk communities.

As the pandemic rages on, we are likely to see more vulnerable workers pushed into precarious and dangerous territory for survival, accepting risky job offers and falling victim to predatory human traffickers.

Survivors of human trafficking in Hong Kong are also struggling in these circumstances. At Stop Trafficking of People (STOP), a local anti-trafficking initiative, we have observed a sharp increase in anxiety, insomnia and suicidal tendencies among survivors. Factors contributing to this include survivors’ increasingly dire financial situations, delayed legal cases, disrupted repatriation schedules and prolonged family separation. Since few have legal status to work in Hong Kong, most are staying indoors with little to take their minds off their traumatic memories of exploitation.

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Migrant domestic workers are another group hit hard by this pandemic. A survey of 1,127 migrant domestic workers by the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body revealed a
range of challenges
that exposed workers to unfair treatment or exploitation. According to the survey, some workers were told to stay at home on their rest days, on occasion
under threat of termination
, and in other cases, employers who lost their jobs asked migrant domestic workers to work without pay or take unpaid leave.
Unable to send money home to their families and
excluded
from the Hong Kong government’s relief measures, reports have emerged of migrant domestic workers being pushed into
debt traps
to provide for themselves and their family.

While Covid-19 does not discriminate, its impacts certainly do. In the past months, we have witnessed the disproportionate and often devastating impacts of the pandemic on at-risk communities.

‘McRefugees’ lose restaurant shelter as Hong Kong battles third wave of Covid-19 cases

09:10

‘McRefugees’ lose restaurant shelter as Hong Kong battles third wave of Covid-19 cases

This World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, let’s not lose sight of those who are facing difficult situations. As Hong Kong battles a new wave of infections and extended economic uncertainty, now, more than ever, we need to stay vigilant against the exploitation and potential trafficking of vulnerable populations.

Jacqueline Au, research and policy officer, Stop Trafficking of People (STOP)

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