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Archive for October, 2008

Vicky’s sister Irene has informed us that she will return to Hong Kong for the inquest. Another sister may also be present, but we have yet to confirm that. As usual, we will provide more information as soon as we have it.

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The only extra information about the inquest into Vicky’s death that we have at the moment is the starting date, time and place, as follows.

You can click on the address link above for a map. Sai Wan Ho is on Hong Kong island and can be reached on the MTR Island Line heading towards Chai Wan.

The inquest will be held in an open court and is expected to run for a week. We hope to see as many people there as possible.

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We have just been informed that an inquest into Vicky’s death will be held in mid-November. Word reached us this afternoon from Edith, Vicky’s aunt, who was informed by the Philippine Consulate.

Full details, including dates and other information, will be passed on to us this evening or tomorrow. We will report them as soon as we can.

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Since forming the concern group we have become more aware of the many concerns that domestic helpers have about their work conditions and personal safety. Each week we help someone in some way, providing temporary shelter for abused women, helping some to deal with threatening employers, directing others to support organisations and raising money when we can.

Today we want to tell you about a friend of ours, someone we helped out a few months ago. Beth’s story is similar to those of increasingly more domestic helpers in Hong Kong. It might not be the most dramatic tale but it does indicate the contempt with which helpers can be treated, and what they can do to gain recompense.

Read on . . .

When Beth arrived in Hong Kong the situation seemed promising. Her employer lived with his fiancé in Discovery Bay, a tidy, quiet and often friendly district on Lantau island. But on the first night she had to sleep on the couch because the separate room mentioned in her domestic helper contract was a lie. And when her employer left for Singapore two days later her life descended into misery.

With the employer out of sight, his fiancé proceeded to assault Beth. The slightest mistake in any aspect of housework brought swift retribution, first in foul language and then in beatings on the arm. One day she was hit in the face with a book. Desperately worried about her own safety and how she would support her three-year-old daughter in the Philippines if she fled, Beth fell into confusion, made worse by constant hunger because she was only allowed one meal a day.

Less than a week after arriving, this shy, unassuming woman had a knife thrust at her face, and six days later she was dismissed. She sought help from the Mission for Migrant Workers and found accommodation with friends of the Bethune House Migrant Women’s Refuge. But she still had a struggle ahead.

The Lantau police dismissed Beth’s claim of assault in a form letter, citing insufficient evidence. Her employment agency resisted cancelling a loan it forced her to take in the Philippines to cover illegal placement fees, but eventually relented. Beth’s former employer ignored the case she presented to the Labour Department for unpaid wages, only appearing when it went to the Minor Employment Contract Adjudication Board. During the hearing he berated Beth for ‘running away’ and pressed her to apologise. He finally paid only part of the claim.

Beth recently filed an application for a change of employment status with the Immigration Department. In two weeks she will take up a contract with new employers – a fundamentally decent family. She has friends in Discovery Bay now, and elsewhere in Hong Kong. But more importantly she has hope.

An earlier, slightly different version of Beth’s story appeared in Migrant Focus, the monthly newsletter of the Mission for Migrant Workers here in Hong Kong. We will include links to Migrant Focus in the sidebar soon, so that readers can learn more about what the Mission and Bethune House are doing for domestic helpers in distress.

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Given the current lack of news on whether an inquest will be held into Vicky’s death, we will dedicate the next few posts to details of other cases we have been involved in, both within Discovery Bay and in other parts of Hong Kong.

The saddest fact that we have encountered since coming together after Vicky’s disappearance is that abuse is happening to domestic helpers at many levels, more so than even the more cynical amongst us might think. Aside from the many people we have referred to Helpers for Domestic Helpers, mainly for contract violations by employers, we have been working with the Bethune House Migrant Women’s Shelter and its parent organisation the Mission for Migrant Workers in aiding physically distressed helpers.

We will, of course, offer any news available on Vicky’s case, but the next post will feature Beth’s story, written by one of the concern group and published in the Mission for Migrant Workers newsletter this month.

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A representative of the Philippine Consulate wrote to the Coroner’s Court recently, asking whether a decision has been made about an inquest into Vicky’s death. Since then, numerous follow up calls have not yielded any information.

As we know from our experience in helping other people who are facing the court system in Hong Kong, the process can be excruciatingly slow. A serious assualt case can take six months or more to reach the District Court. This is often due to the sheer number of cases pending, and we don’t rule out that possibility in relation to the Coroner’s Court.

However, it does does seem typical of Vicky’s case that respsonses from the authorities are very slow in coming and somewhat unhelpful when they arrive.

We will relay any further information as soon as it becomes available.

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