Call for action on Hong Kong moneylenders forcing Indonesian and Filipino domestic helpers to hand over passports
Diplomats ‘deeply concerned’ about illegal demand, associated with unscrupulous lenders charging massive interest rates
Diplomats from Indonesia and the Philippines on Friday urged Hong Kong authorities to take firm action against people who hold domestic helpers’ passports.
They said they were “deeply concerned” about the illegal practice, reports of which are increasingly common.
The calls followed the arrest of a man suspected of running a HK$3 million (US$382,000) moneylending racket. The man was thought to have forced 878 Indonesian and Filipino helpers to surrender their passports in exchange for loans. The workers were charged 125 per cent interest, more than double the local legal limit.
By Friday evening, the man had been released on bail and was expected to report back to police next month.
In an official statement, Jakarta’s consul general expressed “deep concern” over Indonesian passports being held by “unauthorised parties” and called on local authorities to take “firm measures”.
“I urge all Indonesian citizens in Hong Kong and Macau not to let other parties withhold their passports, as it is against Indonesian immigration law. If any third party is withholding your passport unlawfully, please report directly to the consulate,” Tri Tharyat said.
There are more than 370,000 foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong, mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia. Many of them take out loans to pay unscrupulous employment agencies that charge excessive fees. Some also face pressure from families to send more money back home.
“This is a concern we share with the Indonesian consulate,” Filipino consul general Antonio Morales said. “We also urge the Hong Kong authorities to take firm action and prosecute those who are caught holding our citizens’ passports.”
The diplomat said that looking into problems with the loans workers take out was among his top priorities. “Those who receive the least have to pay the highest interest rates. This is very unjust,” Morales said. “Many fall victim to these loans with very high interest rates. This is an area we plan to address and encourage them to plan their finances.”
Last year, police broke a loan sharking syndicate that lent HK$10 million to about 1,200 Filipino domestic helpers in Hong Kong. The workers, charged interest rates of up to 120 per cent a year, were also required to surrender their passports.
Morales said the Hong Kong government should launch a “widespread information campaign” in a bid to reduce the number of incidents. “We are also working with officials in the Philippines to launch a public awareness campaign there, so relatives can have lower expectations and understand the situation of the workers abroad. But that’s more of a long-term approach,” he said.
The top Filipino envoy to the city also insisted that the Hong Kong government should consider increasing foreign domestic workers’ minimum salary, which is currently HK$4,410 a month.
Domestic helpers in Hong Kong have been the target of several scams, including being duped into paying for bogus jobs and getting caught in pyramid-like schemes. There have also been reports of agencies and employers unlawfully withholding passports.