Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Questions mount for family of Philippine domestic helper still waiting for body, three months after her death in Shenzhen

Agency that placed her with Hong Kong employers claim family’s request of second autopsy report has delayed processing

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 November, 2017, 8:02am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 November, 2017, 9:03am

The family of domestic worker Lorain Asuncion, who fell to her death in mainland China, have waited more than three months to take her body back to the Philippines, as they deal with mounting questions and local authorities continue investigating her Hong Kong employers.

“We hope that the repatriation happens soon … My sister’s remains have been in Shenzhen for a very long time and we are all concerned … We want to mourn her death,” Jenevieve Javier said by phone from the Philippines.

Danilo Baldon, of the Philippine consulate in Hong Kong, said the archipelago nation’s consulate in Guangzhou was keeping in touch with the insurance company responsible for the repatriation.

“Hopefully it will be possible to repatriate the body in 15 days,” he said.

The Hong Kong employment agency that processed Asuncion’s contract said a second autopsy report requested by the family had delayed the process.

Asked when it would be possible to send the body back, a spokeswoman for Sunlight Employment Agency said processing the necessary paperwork for repatriation required “the help and arrangement of multiple government authorities” and that staff were “trying our best to coordinate”.

Over the past three months, Asuncion’s family has gone through an ordeal of finding out the exact circumstances of the 28-year-old domestic worker’s death.

They received the news that she had fallen to her death at a block of flats in Shenzhen, a city on the mainland just across the border from Hong Kong, on July 24 through Sunlight. They said the agency told them the death was a “suspected suicide”.

The employer doesn’t want to talk to us ... We are waiting for a police report [from the mainland]
Jenevieve Javier, sister

But precisely what happened that day and immediately before the tragic event remained unclear. Asuncion’s relatives claimed she had shown no signs of personal problems or depression.

“We want to understand what happened,” Asuncion’s sister said. “The employer doesn’t want to talk to us ... We are waiting for a police report [from the mainland], and we also requested CCTV footage.”

According to the family, even though Asuncion had been hired in Hong Kong, she was taken several times to work on the mainland – an arrangement that did not please her. On the fateful trip, she was left at a home of her employers’ relative in Shenzhen while the couple who hired her in Hong Kong went on holiday, Asuncion’s family said.

Susan Escorial, an aunt to Asuncion, said her niece was afraid when she was on the mainland because of the language barrier and her lack of access to social networks.

“She could not talk to us … Last time, she was even more afraid because she would not be with her real employer,” Escorial told the Post after Asuncion’s death.

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Hong Kong law prohibits employers from requesting or forcing helpers to work at an address not specified in their employment contracts. But rights groups said Asuncion’s case highlighted a trend of domestic helpers being taken by local employers to work illegally outside the city.

A spokeswoman for Hong Kong’s Immigration Department, which was told of the death by the consulate, said in August it had “referred the suspected human-trafficking case to the police for follow-up action”.

Officers of the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau took over the case, and arrested a 47-year-old man and his 32-year-old wife in Wan Chai on August 17 for conspiracy to defraud.

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“They were suspected to have made [a] false statement to [a] relevant government department, claiming that the female foreign domestic helper employed by them would work in Hong Kong only,” a police spokesman said this week.

The couple was released on bail, and expected to report back to police at the end of December, another spokeswoman said.

Hong Kong has no anti-human-trafficking laws. In this absence, experts and advocates have noted authorities end up taking a piecemeal approach to labour trafficking, using charges such as false representation to tackle the issue.