When the Voiceless Are Finally Heard; Migrant Domestic Workers in Hong Kong Speak.
By Ivy Couch*
Exploitation is a part of everyday life for the average migrant worker in Hong Kong. Most migrant workers are women who leave their countries of origin in search of something better for their families back home. Migrant domestic workers are an integral part of Hong Kong’s society and yet one of the most marginalized. It is reported by the New York Times, that Indonesia and the Philippines, supply the majority of Hong Kong’s 330,000 foreign domestic workers—one in every seven households.
Countless stories of abuse cloud this industry and have forced an otherwise discarded group, into mainstream attention. Just last year, a 35-year-old worker fell to her death from the 49th floor of the building where she worked. While a 21-year-old helper from Indonesia, only having worked two months in Hong Kong, died after falling off a balcony while cleaning. These horrific stories led to protests and petitions, and as of January of 2017, domestic helpers in Hong Kong are no longer forced to clean windows as part of their contractual duties. Unfortunately, the law does not protect migrant workers whose contracts were signed before December 2016, leaving most of the city’s 300,000 workers unprotected and voiceless.
Migrant domestic workers from Philippines, Indonesia, Nepal, Thailand and supporters rising together to end all forms of Violence Against Women. PHOTO: EMAN VILLANUEVA
That’s where the Mission for Migrant Workers (MFMW) steps in. The organization has become a beacon of hope in this often isolating and abusive life of migrant domestic workers. MFMW offers a safe haven for women and children seeking refuge and mediation. They can also gather information about options for receiving help seeking legal advice for injustices they face that they may not know exist. MFMW serves as a lifeline, letting workers know that they are not alone in their struggle. Currently, there is one Global Mission Fellow working with the Mission for Migrant Workers in Hong Kong; Jennifer Sushi Au and one that has just completed her service; Laura Nunez Olaciregui.
Ironically, these conflicts and mistreatment often occur between Christian owners and Christian domestic workers—and the tensions are high. MFMW has become a trusted partner for so many seeking a fair chance at a good life. The program is housed at St. John’s Cathedral and is the leading partner in providing Christian mediation services. This ecumenical partnership provides refugee resources and mediation services to the migrants at the forefront of tensions. Global Ministries supports MFMW through grant funding to rectify the plight of migrant workers.
MFMW manager Ms. Cynthia Abdon Tellez giving orientation to leaders of migrant organizations about the happy homes program and life skill trainings. PHOTO: ELISEO TELLEZ
A study conducted by MFMW found that 3 in 10 domestic helpers are forced to sleep in storerooms, kitchens, even bathrooms. The workers who endure these degrading accommodations are finding a voice to discuss these harsh realities. To help combat ignorance and spread knowledge, the organization produces biblically sound pamphlets and devotional material to uplift Christian migrant workers and employers. Reminding both sides of this relationship, that as Christians, we should look for the common thread and treat all with respect. The goal of the MFMW is to publish about 3,000 copies of the pamphlet for distribution to Christian churches within Hong Kong, with a focus on Church goers who have domestic workers.
Missionary Laura Nunez Olaciregui from Colombia, saying solidarity words in a rally in defense of the rights of migrant workers in Hong Kong. PHOTO: YENG CATUBIG REDITA
A young woman recently recounted her story in a publication MFMW creates called, The Migrant Focus. Her name is Cahaya, and she recounts her traumatic encounter with the husband of the household where she was employed in her story: “He strangled my neck until I could not breath anymore…his grip was so strong it caused bruising on my neck. I tried to scream and cry for help but I could not. The MFMW helped me pursue my case. I felt supported and not alone anymore.” She ultimately won; her employer was fined, not jailed. By uplifting and encouraging Christian migrant workers and employers, MFMW hopes that the understanding will continue to breakdown distinctions of classism. We ask that you please continue to pray for migrant workers and MFMW’s work.
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*Ivy Couch is program area liaison for Global Ministries Communications.