Operation Santa Claus

Abused foreign helpers find sanctuary in Hong Kong shelter

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 November, 2012, 3:30am

Stranded in a foreign country with little money, no knowledge of where to go or turn for help - that is the unhappy predicament faced by a group of women in a Hong Kong shelter.

They are foreign domestic helpers who have been unfairly treated or abused by their employers in Hong Kong. They also face a language barrier, which adds to the difficulty of finding help.

"I was very scared. I didn't know where to go, I didn't know any place in Hong Kong," said one helper, Eni, recalling how she ran away last month when her employer tried to send her back to Indonesia. The 36-year-old did not give her real name, to protect her identity.

Her employer woke her up one morning and ordered to leave for the airport. She felt that she had no choice other than to run out of the door before she could pack her belongings. "I worked here for eight months, but I haven't really made any money. I couldn't go home," she said, speaking softly with a nervous smile, with the help of a translator. Her employer fired her, blaming a language problem in communicating with her.

Her wage, HK$2,300 a month, was less than the minimum wage of HK$3,740. But she was paid nothing for the first seven months, since her salary was sent to the agency that recruited her for the job.

Eni left home to work abroad for the first time in January, hoping to improve the lives of her husband and three children.

She found a job as a domestic helper with a Hong Kong family, but they deprived her of proper meals and holidays, and always shouted at her.

A friend of Eni's contacted Christian Action for her after she fled from the family. Eni found comfort at the organisation's safe shelter, which has 26 beds that mainly house Indonesian, Filipino and Thai women like her.

"I was able to laugh and smile again at the shelter," she said. The shelter is in an old building that is very worn down. Operation Santa Claus is raising funds for its renovation.

The organisation also offers financial and legal assistance, as most of these domestic workers are suing their employers for unpaid money and other issues.