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Domestic Workers Face 'Modern Slavery...
Hong Kong
By Miguel Candela
01 Mar 2015

320,000 migrant women are exposed to all kinds of physical and psychological abuse in the domestic service sector of Hong Kong. This story is a testimony of their experiences and struggles.

After being repeatedly abused and realizing that her situation would not improve, in a desperate attempt, Kamsiah ran away from her employer's house without money or documentation. Subsequently she was accused of stealing her employer's wallet which was said to contain around 900 US Dollars. Unfortunately, false accusations are a common practice to pressure migrant workers and avoid paying the wages owed to them. Barefooted, without money nor documentation, she sought refuge in a 24-hour fast food restaurant and waited until another compatriot helped her and took her to a shelter.

Esther C. Bangkawayan is the director of Bethune House shelter, where foreign domestic helpers who suffer abuse find shelter, food, and legal advice. They now house about a dozen women in trouble, but at times they even have to squeeze around 20 people in the small house nestled beside a church in Kowloon. A domestic helper herself, Esther is campaigning the government to scrap two rules she deems unfair: one which forbids employees from changing their employers more than three times a year, and another one which doesn’t allow them from changing to work at another sector of the economy.

42 year old filipino domestic helper Grace signed a misleading labour contract to work in Hong Kong but she instead ended up in Dalian, a northeast Chinese city 1,979 km far from Hong Kong. After confronting her employer about the situation, Grace was put into a return flight to Hong Kong without her pending salary and with only 200 RMB in her wallet. Grace has made now a formal complaint against the recruitment agency which made her labour contract. However, she is not very optimistic regarding her chances of recovering the debt of 40,000 pesos she currently has in the Philippines.

Eni Lestari, Indonesian, is the spokesperson for the Justice for Erwiana Committee. A domestic helper herself, she hopes to get justice for one of her compatriots, Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, who came to Hong Kong seeking for a better life and future but instead found a form of modern slavery. Erwiana’€™s employers hit her so severely that her brain has sustained irreversible injuries. As a result, she is unable to walk properly and has blurred vision. Her employer punched Erwiana so violently that her teeth cracked. She was sent to Indonesia with her body full of bruises and 8 US dollars in her pocket. Outraged immigrants like Lestari demand now justice and prison for her attackers. The Court has already declared them guilty and sentence is pending.

On Sundays thousands of Indonesian women gather in the streets and public spaces around Hong Kong to take advantage of their only day off. Most take their own food and an umbrella and talk to their friends all day long.

“€œWe barely have any money, so we have to take our lunch from our employer's house and sit in any public space that we can so we can enjoy our leisure time with our friends,”€ said Kamsiah.

To enjoy their free time and to get to know other immigrant workers in Hong Kong, immigrant groups organize activities for the women, such as beauty contests and self-defense classes in Victoria Park.  Persaudaraan Setia Hati Terate Fight Club teaches women to protect themselves from abusive employers.

Not only helping the women get away from the world of domestic work for the little time they have off or boosting their ability to defend themselves, such activities are the only social contact many have; and friends made during Sundays can be of great importance when difficulties arise.

FULL ARTICLE AVAILABLE ON REQUEST

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Fighting for Human Rights in Lebanon
Beirut
By Cherine Yazbeck
10 Dec 2014

Beirut, Lebanon
December 9, 2014

The world will celebrate the International Day for Human Rights on December 10 this year while human rights in Lebanon are notoriously bad. Lebanon prides itself that Lebanese philosopher Charles Malik was the official rapporteur for the United Nation’s Commission on Human Rights in 1948, which drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
According to Lebanese psychoanalyst and human rights activist Reina Milad Sarkis, the government should create a ministry for human rights to put an end to abuses against women and other human rights violations.
Nisrine Rouhana, a Lebanese mother of two, was the victim of a gruesome murder.
Her husband is accused of abducting her and taking her to a remote area where he killed her and dumped her body in a forest.
According to Nisrine’s family, her husband had beaten her for 15 years and killed her when she took legal action against him.
Nisrine’s case fuelled a heated debate in Lebanon about the need for stricter laws to limit violence against women. In the past two years, Lebanese media shed the light on several similar cases in which married women are believed to be killed by their husbands following a history of domestic abuse.
Female migrant domestic workers in Lebanon are also widely abused and suffer circumstances that are akin to slavery.
Sarkis believes that there is need for a radical solution to end violence against women in Lebanon; the government should act on legal and cultural levels to change women’s dim reality and provide citizens and residents of Lebanon with basic rights.

Shot List

1 Wide of Reina Milad Sarkis entering room.
2 Close up of Reina Milad Sarkis’s face.
3 Various of Reina Milad Sarkis.

4 SOUNDBITE (French) Reina Milad Sarkis, psychoanalyst and human rights activist (Woman)

“Lebanon adheres to human rights values and the International Human Rights Charter -- Lebanon has participated in drafting and signing it. Lebanon would like to present itself to the region [Middle East] as a country that holds the values of tolerance and freedom; all the values that are included in the Human Rights Charter. “Human rights are about dignity of citizens and all residents in a given country – the right of movement, the freedom of belief, etc. “Being in a region like the Middle East, I believe that Lebanon is – in theory – a country that would like to carry certain values. “Unfortunately, since the 1950s – precisely in 1948 – circumstances did not allow reconciliation between what Lebanon pretends to be and what it really is. “Women are beaten every day. There are scandals in the news that are beyond imagination. Women are beaten by abusive husbands. There are women who die and their husbands, literally, [gets] away with murder. “Women are not protected as they should be. There are also scandals about foreign [domestic] workers], accusations of slavery. This cannot be tolerated. “Things are going from bad to worst, the situation is becoming worst. These values are disintegrating and there is a real change, which is very dangerous. “I think that the Lebanese government, which is notoriously absent from this issue, should fill its role and create a symbolic and efficient space to take care of human rights in this country – hence comes the idea of creating a human rights ministry. “We have victims and even with the presence of NGOs the situation [has not changed]. The biggest absent is the government. The situation is deteriorating and there is a really terrifying wave of violence, horror, and atrocity. “We are at a point where we should choose – either we give up and say there is nothing we could do and we let go any of hope, or we try –perhaps as a last attempt – to do something; there might me something that we could save. Human rights are not a luxury… it is not secondary. It is something extremely basic. It means having the right to eat when you are hungry; it is the right to go to school; and to receive treatment. “The government should give these basic things to its citizens so that they would be able to worry about other things. “When we reach the point where there is an extremism that presents itself as religious – a moralizing extremism that is very oppressive; when this phenomenon becomes the norm; when we are shocked when someone tries to do something for human rights, I think there is a real problem.

“There is a distortion of conception (…).There is a degeneration, an erosion that is taking place with time. There is a lack of a state of law. There are peculiar mentalities. “It is true that individual rights are complicated by religion and tradition, but it is not at all a question of Shiite –Sunni [divide]. “Nisrine is a woman who was abused during 20 years of married life, beaten every day, and ended up being killed by her husband. We still do not know if her husband will receive the punishment he deserves – probably not. It will not of the same proportion as of the crimes’. This woman was not protected; she could not resort to a law that could protect her. She is a Christian woman, married to a Christian, her kids are Christian and her family is Christian. “I think there is a real problem when it comes to laws. They need to be [reformed], more honest, a little less hypocrite, and a little more realistic. “I do not think that these problems are because of ISIS. There is an urgent need for reforms. “On the other hand, Lebanon has many good laws; laws that are humane but not applied because of mentalities that are changing for the worse. NGOs were able to push things a little, but they do not have any authority. They cannot draft and issue laws.”

5 Wide of women in the street.
6 SOUNDBITE (Arabic) Sally Rizk, Social worker from Caritas (Woman)
“What I notice the most is that wages [of foreign domestic workers] are not paid. Other cases include beating , physical harm and rape.” 7 SOUNDBITE (Arabic) Unnamed foreign domestic worker (Woman)
“I came to Lebanon two years ago. My boss was not good to me (…) she did not pay me or give me food. Whenever I asked for money to send it to Bangladesh, she used to beat me up and say that my work was not good, even though I worked hard. “They would let me to sleep only at 11 pm or midnight and then wake me up at 5 am or 4:30 am. They didn't give me anything. They didn't allow me to talk with another girl. They did not allow me to leave home.”

8 SOUNDBITE (Arabic) Sally Rizk, Social worker from Caritas (Woman)

“We receive girls [foreign domestic workers], calm them down and talk to them. We fill in a social file and then refer them to the legal department. We cooperate with General Security and courts if necessary. “As you saw, that girl was not paid. The General Security conducts an investigation with the sponsor. In some cases [the worker] gets her rights through the General Security or in other cases we have to resort to a lawyer to file a lawsuit.”

9 Wide of Syrian refugees in Lebanon protesting their treatment.
10 Wide of people playing sports in Beirut.
11 Wide of Ashura procession.
12 Wide of mosque in Beirut.

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HK Domestic Workers 02
Hong Kong
By Miguel Candela
24 Jun 2014

Kamsiah relives the moment she escaped her employer's household and sought refuge in a McDonald's open 24-7. Barefoot with neither money nor documentation, she waited until another compatriot helped her and took her to a shelter.

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HK Domestic Workers 15
Hong Kong
By Miguel Candela
23 Jun 2014

On Sundays thousands of Indonesian women gather in the streets and public spaces around Hong Kong to take advantage of their only day off in an economic way. Most take their own food and an umbrella and talk to their friends all day long.

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HK Domestic Workers 16
Hong Kong
By Miguel Candela
23 Jun 2014

Two young Indonesian immigrants pose in a Hong Kong street on a sunday. Many of them are misled by mafia-style organizations who lure them to sign abusive contracts and exploit them later in Hong Kong.

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HK Domestic Workers 17
Hong Kong
By Miguel Candela
23 Jun 2014

On Sundays thousands of Indonesian women gather in the streets and public spaces around Hong Kong to take advantage of their only day off and to have picnic. “We barely have any money, so we have to take our lunch from our employer's house and sit in any public space that we can so we can enjoy our leisure time with our friends” said Kamsiah.

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HK Domestic Workers 18
Hong Kong
By Miguel Candela
23 Jun 2014

Kamsiah stands at a Kowloon street market where she would buy food for her employer. After being repeatedly abused and realizing that her situation would not improve, in a desperate attempt, Kamsiah ran away from her employer's house without money and documentation. Subsequently she was accused of stealing her employer's wallet which was said to contain around 900 US Dollars. Unfortunately, this false accusations are a common practice to pressure migrant workers and avoid paying the wages owed to them.

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HK Domestic Workers 01
Hong Kong
By Miguel Candela
23 Jun 2014

Dora poses behind a traditional Indonesian wooden mask in front of the police station where she reported physical abuse and conditions of slave labor at the whim of her employer.

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HK Domestic Workers 03
Hong Kong
By Miguel Candela
23 Jun 2014

Kamsiah stands at a Kowloon street market where she would buy food for her employer. After being repeatedly abused and realizing that her situation would not improve, in a desperate attempt, Kamsiah ran away from her employer's house without money and documentation. Subsequently she was accused of stealing her employer's wallet which was said to contain around 900 US Dollars. Unfortunately, this false accusations are a common practice to pressure migrant workers and avoid paying the wages owed to them.

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HK Domestic Workers 04
Hong Kong
By Miguel Candela
23 Jun 2014

Filipino domestic worker Grace stands at the bus station where she arrived in Hong Kong from China. She signed a labor contract to work in Hong Kong but her employer's family sent her illegally to Dalian, Northeast China. Without her passport and knowing no Chinese she didn'€™t know what to do, so she obliged them. After having worked there for a while, the employers refused to pay her and sent her back to Hong Kong with just 200 RMB in hand. Now she has filed a lawsuit against the family who employed her, but she's not very optimistic about the outcome and she doesn't think she will be able to pay the 40.000 peso debt she contracted in the Philippines with the employment agency.

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HK Domestic Workers 05
Hong Kong
By Miguel Candela
23 Jun 2014

42 year old filipino domestic helper, Grace, signed a misleading labour contract to work in Hong Kong but she instead ended up in Dalian, a northeast Chinese city and 1,979 km far from Hong Kong. After confronting her situation to the employer, Grace was put into a return flight to Hong Kong without her pending salary and with only 200 RMB in her wallet. Grace has made now a formal complaint against the recruitment agency which made her labour contract. However, she is not very optimistic with her chances of recovering the debt of 40,000 pesos she currently has in the Philippines. In the photograph, Grace poses in Mong Kok, Kowloon district, near where she first arrived in Hong Kong.

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HK Domestic Workers 06
Kowloon
By Miguel Candela
23 Jun 2014

Sundays are the only days that immigrants can rest and enjoy with their friends. Some from Indonesia, as shown in the image, also try dresses for their pre-wedding photo taking sessions so they can send them to their families. It is important for them to show an image of progress and prosperity.

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HK Domestic Workers 07
Hong Kong
By Miguel Candela
23 Jun 2014

To enjoy their free time and to get to know other immigrant workers in Hong Kong, different immigrant groups organize activities, such as beauty contest, in Victoria Park, Hong Kong Island. Such activities are the only social contact many have, and friends made during Sundays can be of great importance when difficulties arise.

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HK Domestic Workers 08
Hong Kong
By Miguel Candela
23 Jun 2014

Indonesian women learn and train self-defense thanks to Persaudaraan Setia Hati Terate fight club in Victoria park to protect themselves from abusive employers.

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HK Domestic Workers 09
Hong Kong
By Miguel Candela
23 Jun 2014

Indonesian women learn and train self-defense thanks to Persaudaraan Setia Hati Terate fight club in Victoria park to protect themselves from abusive employers.

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HK Domestic Workers 11
Hong Kong
By Miguel Candela
23 Jun 2014

On Sundays thousands of Indonesian women gather in the streets and public spaces around Hong Kong to take advantage of their only day off in an economic way. Most take their own food and an umbrella and talk to their friends all day long.

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HK Domestic Workers 12
Hong Kong
By Miguel Candela
23 Jun 2014

Sring Atin arrived in Hong Kong in 2002 to work as a domestic helper and only had a single day off each month. Her abuse and slavey-like labour experience in Hong Kong does not differ from many other Indonesian immigrants but, luckily, Sring was allowed to change employer. She is now of of the most energetic activists who fight to protect immigrants rights and to change Hong Kong laws.

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HK Domestic Workers 13
Hong Kong
By Miguel Candela
23 Jun 2014

Eni Lestari, Indonesian, is the spokesperson for the Justice for Erwiana Committee. A domestic helper herself, she hopes to get justice for her compatriot Erwiana Sulistyaningsih who came to Hong Kong seeking for a better life and future but found slavery instead. Erwiana’s employers hit her so severely that her brain has sustained irreversible injuries; As a result she is unable to walk properly and has blurred vision. Her employer punched Erwiana so violently that her teeth cracked. She was sent to Indonesia with her body full of bruises and 8 US dollars in her pocket. Outraged immigrants like Lestari demand now justice and prison for her attackers. The Court has already declared them guilty and sentence is pending.

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HK Domestic Workers 14
Hong Kong
By Miguel Candela
23 Jun 2014

On Sundays thousands of Indonesian women gather in the streets and public spaces around Hong Kong to take advantage of their only day off in an economic way. Most take their own food and an umbrella and talk to their friends all day long but also massaging each other as shown in the picture.

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Semarang, Indonesia
By Ruom
10 Jun 2014

A domestic worker returns to work in Singapore after attending her mother's funeral at her home in Indonesia.

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Kendal, Indonesia
By Ruom
09 Jun 2014

Aspiring domestic workers relax in their bunks at training centre.

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Semarang, Indonesia
By Ruom
08 Jun 2014

Tutik arrives home after working in Singapore for three years. Her daughter Ika is so happy she is home she doesn't leave her alone.

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Singapore
By Ruom
08 Jun 2014

Tutik prepares to fly home. She finished her contract with her employer and waits to board her plane back to Semarang in Indonesia.

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Semarang, Indonesia
By Ruom
08 Jun 2014

Tutik arrives home after working in Singapore for three years. Her suitcases are filled with souvenirs for her two daughters.

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Singapore
By Ruom
07 Jun 2014

Anandha recites the Koran during a contest organized by local Humanitarian organizations.

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HK Domestic Workers 10
Hong Kong
By Miguel Candela
01 Jun 2014

At a difficult and exhausting self-defense class, Indonesian women train to protect themselves from abusive employers. Sundays are the only holidays for foreign domestic workers who fill Hong Kong's parks and streets with cultural and other activities at the end of each week.

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Singapore
By Ruom
11 May 2014

Maid agency with domestic workers at Katong shopping centre.

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Singapore
By Ruom
09 May 2014

Agencies advertising maids for hire, and show their skills in display centre at Bukit Timah shopping plaza.

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Singapore
By Ruom
09 May 2014

Images advertising the work of migrant workers on the wall of a maid agency in Bukit Timah shopping plaza.

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Singapore
By Ruom
09 May 2014

Istiana waits for a taxi with her new employer. She was picked up from Bukit Temah Shopping Centre by her employer to be taken home.

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Singapore
By Ruom
07 May 2014

A view of the port and high-rises of the CBD.

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Semarang, Indonesia
By Ruom
06 May 2014

Istiana along with other migrant workers prepare to board a plane to Singapore. The women will not be able to return home for the next two years.

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Semarang, Indonesia
By Ruom
04 May 2014

Future migrant workers attend a mandatory day of classes at BP2TKI before leaving to work overseas. BP2TKI is the regional regulation office for overseas migration in Indonesia.

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Salatiga, Indonesia
By Ruom
03 May 2014

Istiana starts packing her stuff together with her sister and nephew. She will leave to work in Singapore the following day and she will not be able to see her family for the next two years.

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Salatiga, Indonesia
By Ruom
02 May 2014

Saffira cares for her grandfather. Istiana, Saffira's mother, is leaving to work in Singapore the following day. Istiana will not be able to see her for the next two years.

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Salatiga, Indonesia
By Ruom
02 May 2014

Istiana in her home, she will leave to work in Singapore the following day and will not be able to see her family for the next two years. Istiana has has been working abroad as domestic worker for almost 10 years, this will be the first time she goes to Singapore.

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Dreaming Singapore
Kendal, Indonesia
By Ruom
01 May 2014

Aspiring domestic workers sign the contract to start their training in a centre in Kendal.

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Kendal, Indonesia
By Ruom
01 May 2014

The billboard of a recruitment agency for migrant domestic workers can be seen along a main road.

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Kendal, Indonesia
By Ruom
01 May 2014

Tutik's daughter, Ika at school. During the three years her mother has been working in Singapore she has been able to see her once for 24hrs.

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Sumber Sari, Indonesia
By Ruom
30 Apr 2014

Devita (16) talks with her grandfather and cousin. Since her mother left the village to work in Singapore 3 years ago, she has been living with her grandparents together with her sister, Ika (18).