Swindled by Hong Kong agencies, Filipino helpers face debt, fear and broken dreams in Russia
One woman agreed to pay HK$43,000 with an annual interest fee of 12 per cent to a local agency, which is now hounding her family in Manila for the outstanding sum
A Filipino single mother of five who was once a domestic helper in Hong Kong, Nhie (not her real name) now works in Russia on a fake visa and is in constant fear of being deported.
In striving to pay off her debts, she has not seen her children for five years.
The 46-year-old is among more than 4,000 undocumented Filipinos currently working in Russia, with many having been tricked into going there from Hong Kong after paying local agencies thousands of dollars to find them better jobs.
Hong Kong, Singapore key centres of trafficking ring sending thousands of Filipino helpers to Russia
In an exclusive report on Wednesday, the Post quoted a senior Philippine official saying that Hong Kong was a top breeding ground for job recruitment fraud, with thousands of Filipino domestic helpers trafficked to countries such as Russia, Brazil and Turkey for bogus jobs.
Confirming this, Jalilo Dela Torre, labour attaché at the Philippine consulate in Hong Kong, said the city’s 189,000 Filipino domestic helpers were easy targets for unscrupulous local agents, who would pocket handsome fees on the pretext of helping the women achieve their aspirations of a better life.
“The trafficked helpers fall victim to the sweet talking and lies of the agencies,” Dela Torre said. “They later find out they are left jobless on their own in a foreign country and have to repay debts.”
Nhie came to Hong Kong in 2007 after borrowing HK$10,000 to pay an agent. Five years later, she terminated her contract with her employer and agreed to pay HK$43,000, with annual interest of 12 per cent, to a Hong Kong agency for a fake visa to work as a “business manager” in Moscow.
It was the height of summer when she landed in the Russian capital in July. She was placed in a one-bedroom boarding house, with 20 other Filipino women, also fresh from Hong Kong.
“It was crowded and uncomfortable. We were sleeping on the floor, packed like sardines,” Nhie said.
“No job was [lined up] for us as the agency promised. We had to look for jobs by ourselves.”
Two weeks later and with the help of fellow Filipinos in the city, Nhie found work as a domestic helper for a middle-aged Russian couple. She has been with them since.
“I have nothing bad to say about my employers now. They are nice … I’m just lucky,” she said.
However, her worries are not over. She still owes the agency HK$18,000 and it has been harassing her family in Manila since last year.
“And I’m afraid if the police here catch me, they will deport me. I’m not ready to go home for good. I still need to earn money to raise my children,” she said.
Matt Friedman, the chief executive officer of the Mekong Club, an anti-slavery group in Hong Kong, said he had come across victims of trafficking ending up in prostitution or exploited positions.
“Sometimes the lending agency works with the recruitment agency,” said Friedman, “[The victims] would end up in a job that is a lot worse than the job they had before and they couldn’t get away because they couldn’t repay all the debts.”
Dang, another former Hong Kong domestic helper now in Russia, told the Post a story similar to Nhie’s. Promised a better job, she arrived in the country in 2011 but ended up working as a maid.
“Money in Russia is not easy to earn. In Hong Kong, we cleaned small flats,” said the 41-year-old, who did not want to use her real name.
“Here we clean big houses with four floors, swimming pools, a gym and a sauna [all by ourselves].”
Funnel foreign domestic workers overseas illegally and face full force of law, Carrie Lam warns Hong Kong employment agencies
Like Nhie, Dang sends most of her salary home and has not yet paid off the loan she took to come to Russia, given the high interest rate.
Asked for its comments on Thursday, a spokesman for Hong Kong’s Labour Department said it promptly investigated all cases of fraudulent recruitment agencies.
From 2013 to the end of October, it had “successfully prosecuted five employment agencies involved in illegal referral of jobseekers to work in other places, and revoked or refused to renew the licence of four.”
Earlier this week, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor vowed to take “vigorous enforcement action” against any local employment agencies that illegally arranged for foreign domestic helpers to work abroad, after the Philippine government moved to stop its citizens from seeking work abroad for three weeks, due to “persistent reports of illegal recruitment activities”.
On Thursday, the Hong Kong government said that Filipino helpers whose terms are expiring soon could extend their contract for longer, in case the families they work for did not get a replacement in time.