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Police ban tents on Chater and other public places

06 July 2017

Tents once sprouted like mushrooms on Chater Road during Sundays.

By Daisy CL Mandap

Tents were a short-lived fad among Filipino domestic workers spending their days off in several public areas in Central, particularly Chater Road.

On June 11, about a month after the tents began sprouting all over Central on Sundays, Hong Kong police circulated leaflets saying putting up structures in public areas without permission was a violation of the law, and offenders may be prosecuted or arrested.

“Any person who, without lawful authority to use tents, structures or other object in any public places, caused any matter or thing which (cause) obstruction, inconvenience or endanger (sic)…You may be prosecuted by “summons” or arrest”, said the statement with the heading “Police Warning”.

The maximum penalty for obstruction in a public place is a fine of $5,000 or imprisonment for three months.

The leaflet had Chinese, Filipino and Indonesian translations, a clear indication that it was meant for migrant domestic workers camping out in tents in open air.

The tents began to mushroom along Chater Road and several other places where Filipino domestic helpers congregate at the onset of the hot summer months in early May.

The tents, which reportedly cost anywhere between $200 to $500 each and could accommodate as many as six people comfortably inside, replaced the ubiquitous umbrellas the migrants used to shield them from the elements and lend them some privacy. They were often placed atop cardboard boxes which served as their portection from the hot cemented walkways.

The police ban upset some of the users who saw the tents as their temporary “home away from home” where they could chat, eat, sleep, play games and do other activities away from the public’s scrutiny.

In several chat sites, migrant workers said the tents gave them much-needed respite and privacy on the only day in the week when they were off-work.

They argued the tents even looked much better than the cardboard boxes, plastic sheets or newspapers often used as cover by those who hang out in Chater and other areas on Sundays.

But others were not so concerned, saying the tents were an eyesore as well, and prevented other migrants from using the open spaces to practice dances or other performances like they used to.

A comment on one Facebook post meant to solicit views about the tent ban said there had been a surfeit in criminal activities because of the fad.

“Marami nang cases ng nakawan ng pera, sahod sa loob ng (mga) tent at hirap silang mag-imbestiga because the tents were closed at the time of (theft) so kahit may CCTV around hindi makita kung sino ang kumuha”.

Eman Villanueva, chair of Bayan HK and Macau, was not unhappy, either, that the tents were gone, but for a different reason: “Doon sa Chater Road, napansin namin na nawala ang community interaction,” he said.

Before the tents came up, members of various migrant organizations who hung out in the area would often go around to chat or take a look at what’s happening in other places during various times of the day.

“(Then) nagkanya-kanya na ng tents. Hindi kagaya dati, nagkakausap pa ang mga magkakapit-tambayan”.

“Nagagamit din minsan sa sugal”, he added.

But he said the prohibition is not new, because the law has been in place for years. The police are probably just being more strict in the implementation because of the surge in the number of tent-users in the area.

Still, he said those who went along with the fad could not be blamed.

“Indication talaga yan na walang sariling lugar ang mga migrante kaya during days off, ang tents ang nagiging ‘private place’ ng marami at nakakaramdam sila ng ‘privacy’ kahit limited.”

“Wala lang talagang lugar ang mga MDWs (migrant domestic workers) where they can rest during rest days”, he added.

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