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Bethune House expands sheltering task to help stranded and quarantined workers

02 March 2021

By Vir B. Lumicao

As Bethune helps, so it is helped. Indonesian migrants show donations to to the shelter.

Adverse conditions brought on by the pandemic are bringing out the best in people.

Thus observes Edwina Antonio, executive director of Bethune House Migrant Women’s Refuge, who leads the shelter’s relief aid to scores of newly arrived workers in hotel quarantine, and hundreds of others stranded in Hong Kong and in between jobs.

The abnormal situation that leaders and politicians now call the new normal, ostensibly to soften its social impact, has broadened the task of Bethune House, which was set up nearly 35 years ago to provide refuge and help to distressed migrant workers.

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“What we’re doing is still part of our sheltering,” Antonio said in an interview.

She said when the coronavirus pandemic crept into Hong Kong early last year, Bethune limited its intake of clients to avoid the contagion. So did similar church-based shelters.

But she said Bethune initially failed to grasp the scope of the problem as it focused on those in hotel quarantine.

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Hindi namin naaral na kung hindi namin in-admit at walang nag-aadmit, saan pupulutin ang mga iyan?” she said. (We failed to consider where [the displaced workers] would go if we didn’t admit them and no other shelter admitted them.)

Then, in September, the shelter began to receive messages from workers in hotel quarantine who were asking for extra food and water.

Antonio (in purple) with fellow donors in a meeting to streamline aid to quarantined workers

The problem was highlighted in December when the list of people in quarantine reached more than 500. It was then that Bethune House realized the magnitude of the problem and expanded its sheltering mission to those people.

The problem was aggravated by droves of workers coming to Hong Kong when the government relaxed its entry rules for foreign domestic helpers.

At the same time, hundreds of dismissed workers were left stranded as carriers cancelled flights. Hundreds more who were waiting to join new employers also reached out as they had to stay in hostels and were running out of money and provisions.

The refuge run by Church-based charity Mission for Migrant Workers got SOS messages from quarantined OFWs appealing for food, water, toiletries and items the hotels niggardly gave. Similar calls came from the stranded workers in the hostels.

The torrent of appeals kept Bethune House busy, prompting it to call up volunteers and supporters to help cope with the calls for help.


Bethune House’s review of its performance in 2020 showed it had housed 924 migrants in its two shelters in Sheung Wan and Jordan, as well as in hostels.

The refuge also handled 564 cases, including labor, virus-related, employment agency, police and immigration cases; and supported 200-plus migrants outside its shelters with visa extension, hostel rents and transport expenses.

Bethune House also provided nearly 3,000 meals to workers in quarantine and in hostels.

How Bethune, with just 16 clients in its two shelters, carried out this massive task was made possible by Good Samaritans who offered their time and resources to help.

Antonio said at the start, she had to go on foot with a handful of volunteers or clients to deliver food and water to those in hotel quarantine or were stuck in hostels.

As days passed, Bethune got unsolicited donations of food supplies, such as Japanese eggs, toiletries, warm clothes and even ladies’ sanitary stuff from private individuals and supporters. The shelter patiently prepared, packed and delivered these to the workers.

Then Antonio appealed to locals and Filipinos living in various parts of Hong Kong to help carry out relief service in their districts, such as in Tsuen Wan and Yuen Long. This saved the Bethune team from traveling long distances to deliver aid.

Antonio said the support groups prepared what the workers needed and did the delivery themselves. All they needed was for Bethune to tell them how many were asking for help, what their needs were and where they could be reached.

Bethune's samaritan on wheels

One volunteer who stands out is a local Chinese male who loads up his motorbike on his free day with about 25 relief packs to take to various hotels in Kowloon and Hong Kong Island where the quarantined workers were staying.

On a daily basis, Bethune House’s “ayuda” reaches about 45 quarantined workers and around 200 others who are toughing it out in their hostels.

Antonio said the positive side of Bethune’s relief activity is how it has instilled the virtue of caring for fellow workers among its clients. She said the clients very eagerly answer calls for help and do not get tired delivering packs of supplies to those in need.

This, she said, could be because the clients themselves have been in desperate situations before, and thus understand the plight of those who are now starving and desolate in their hotel rooms, as well as those in overcrowded hostels.

Bethune resident hands out relief packs to workers in hostels

There is just one wish that the tireless gatekeeper at Bethune House wants fulfilled now, and that is to find a telecom company or an individual with a big heart who could provide free SIM cards for quarantined workers so that they could contact their families and friends, or at least send out a call for help. 

Bethune House is currently running a fund drive called 'Raise the Roof 2021'. Details are in the poster below: 


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