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Migrants say HK will suffer, too, if they are left behind in fight vs Covid-19

16 March 2020

By Daisy CL Mandap

Migrant leaders say there should be no discrimination in the fight against Covid-19

 Migrant workers’ leaders say they want the Hong Kong government to include them in the campaign to combat the spread of the coronavirus disease, or Covid-19, because if they are not protected, then the entire society will be at risk, too.

This was what three of the biggest migrant workers’ groups said when they unveiled a study today, Mar 16, showing that up to 14% of all foreign domestic workers do not receive protective materials from their employers, such as face masks and sanitizers.

In actual numbers, says Eman Villanueva, spokesperson of the International Migrants Alliance, this means up to 55,000 MDWs do not get such protective materials from their employers.


The study, jointly conducted by IMA, Asian Migrants Coordinating Body and the Mission for Migrant Workers, also showed 20% (or 81,3000)  MDWs are at risk of contracting Covid-19 because they are not given a mask each day.

A further 40% (125,383) MDWs get only one mask each day, also exposing them to the risk of catching the disease, given that masks are supposed to provide protection for only 8 hours at most.
Speaking at a press conference held at KUC Space in Jordan to discuss the study, Villanueva said no one should be left behind in the fight to contain the spread of Covid-19.

“In order to effectively fight Covid-19 we should be thinking of protecting everyone, no one should be left out,” he said.

“The whole community should foster solidarity in confronting Covid-19. If we leave one sector behind, we are opening up our (entire) society to the problem of Covid-19 infection.”

40% of FDWs did not go out for an entire month, according to the survey

The study also showed that a staggering 40% (200,000) of the MDWs did not go out for an entire month due to the outbreak. However, these included those who decided on their own to stay put, out of fear of being infected.

Still, about 10% of them, or 40,000, were not given a choice, as they were expressly forbidden from leaving the house for the entire month. Nearly twice as many (78,000) were not allowed to take their weekly rest day.
There were other contract violations reported to the Mission amid the outbreak, said its spokesperson, Johannie Tong.

These included a female migrant worker being forced to share a room with her male employer who had to undergo self-quarantine after coming in from the mainland.

The employer’s wife and daughter reportedly feared catching the virus, so they stayed together in another room.

In another case, a migrant worker who developed a fever was told to stay in a room where she was given food and water, but was not taken to a doctor at all. Luckily, she got well after a few days.

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The survey also showed another indirect abuse being committed against migrant workers by employers who have a deathly fear of the virus. 

About 80% of those surveyed said they do more cleaning, with at least a third saying they are told to clean the house at least twice a day.

Two out of 10 (around 80,000) are not provided protective equipment like gloves or masks when handling harmful cleaning agents such as bleach and disinfectants.

Tong said Hong Kong people should think of the “contribution and sacrifices” made by migrant workers in coming to Hong Kong to realize why they need to be protected amid the pandemic.

AMCB’s Sringatin, on the other hand, said migrant workers themselves do not want to get infected, so they do their own way of protecting themselves by buying their own masks or securing them from other sources.

She said the Indonesian consulate has already distributed 100,000 face masks in their community, but migrant organizations are still looking for private donors, considering that the contagion is likely to continue for at least another month.

Villanueva said the Philippine consulate had also promised to distribute the same number of masks to members of the Filipino community, but apparently ran into “procurement problems.”

Nevertheless, he said some private donors coursed their mask donations to the Consulate, and his own group managed to get 2,000 pieces, which it distributed to members.

But while the consulates and employers both have a responsibility to help ensure migrant workers are able to protect themselves from the virus, Villanueva said it is the Hong Kong government which should carry the biggest burden.

By telling the people in Hong Kong to buy masks and other protective gear, he said the government is telling them “to confront Covid-10 on their own.”

This is so unlike the governments in other affected areas which have made it their responsibility to ensure their citizens are well-equipped and protected against the diseases.

He also cited as an example the massive testing done by the South Korean government to know the extent of the infection within the country. He said that out of more than 22,000 people tested, more than 7,000 were found to be infected.

“Yes, they got a scary number…but it’s good to know what we are facing,” he said.

In contrast, he said the Hong Kong government is not doing enough testing so people are kept in the dark as to the real threat posed by the virus to the city.
Villanueva, Sringatin and Tong: 'Everybody loses if the migrants are not protected'
Apart from including MDWs in the city’s safety and protection programs, the groups also want the Hong Kong government to:

  1. include migrant workers in the financial assistance scheme recently unveiled to address the fallout from the outbreak;

  1. conduct information campaign among households employing MDWs on their responsibilities, including the provision of protective materials

  1. ensure MDWs are given correct information about Covid-19

  1. curb overpricing of masks and protective materials, and ensure adequate supply for all;

  1. withdraw the Labour Department’s advise for MDWs to stay at their workplace during their rest day

  1. abolish other discriminatory restrictions like the two-week rule and the live-in policy which make MDWs more susceptible to abuse.

The survey was conducted online between Mar 8 and 10. O the 1,127 respondents, 54% were Filipinos, 44 were Indonesians,, 0.18 were Thais, and 0.09 were Sri Lankans.

Villanueva said the original plan was to conduct a face-to-face survey, but this was aborted when the organizers realized they would leave out a significant number of MDWs, the ones who have not been going out on their rest days.
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