Friday, 9 December 2011

NGOs draw “wish list” to make HK fairer to ethnic minorities

Press Release 07 December 2011

For reference: Cynthia Tellez Elijah Fung Sr. Felicitas Nisperos

Tel. No.: 97409406, 9048-4645, 91832518

They have been relegated to the sidelines for far too long. Ethnic minorities deserve a fairer Hong Kong.

This was declared by the Coalition of Service Providers for Ethnic Minorities (CSPEM), at the conclusion of the National Consultation of Service Providers in Hong Kong held December 6 at the Fanny Li Hall of the St. John’s Cathedral.

“Ethnic minorities, including the more than 250,000 foreign domestic workers who are mostly Asian women, are active members of the society. In the economic, political, social and cultural spheres, ethnic minorities provide valuable contribution that improves Hong Kong. Unfortunately, there are policies and practices that show the unfair treatment of ethnic minorities,” she remarked.

The conference drew in 26 participants from major NGOs and faith-based groups that conduct advocacy and provide various kinds of direct services to ethnic minorities including counseling, education and information, shelter services and assistance for social integration.

According to CSPEM, the conference was held to discuss the issues and problems of ethnic minorities based on the actual experiences of the participants in service provision, and come up with a “wish list” that shall be presented to relevant HK government agencies. The said list will be the focus of advocacy and lobbying of the service providers to the Executive Committee, Legislative Council and various other government agencies including the Immigration Department, Police Department, Labour Department, Hospital Authority, Leisure and Cultural Services Department and the Food, Environment and Hygiene Department.

“We just want FDWs to get a fair deal in Hong Kong. They are integral parts of our lives and deserve equal and just treatment than they have been experiencing due to policies that expose them to abusive treatment and practices that have long been permitted.”

Some of the reforms that the participants wish to advance were: ensuring that the HK Police, interpreters and hospital personnel are culture and gender-sensitive in dealing with FDWs, instituting an anti-labor trafficking law in Hong Kong, relaxing stringent rules in public parks where FDWs congregate, exemption from visa fee for terminated FDWs, and allowing FDWs with ongoing cases to work and find an employer.

On December 18, participating service providers shall present the wish list to the government to also coincide with the global celebration of the United Nations’ International Migrants Day.

“A fairer Hong Kong shall show that our society upholds the rights of all people. A fairer Hong Kong shall show that we are respectful of others, inclusive and we recognize the importance and role of everyone in building our society. Ethnic minorities deserve better and it is high time that they are treated right,” the CSPEM concluded.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

IMA Hong Kong protests 5th GFMD

IMA Hong Kong protests 5th GFMD

The International Migrants Alliance Hong Kong (IMA-HK) led a picket protest at the Swiss Consulate General today, December 1, as an expression of its involvement in the global migrant movement against the Global Forum on Migration and Development, which is holding its 5th round in Geneva, Switzerland from now until tomorrow, December 2. The Swiss government is host to the 5th round of the GFMD.

Carrying colored placards that read “No to GFMD!”, “We are workers, we are not slaves!” and “No to forced labor migration!”, around 20 migrant workers and their advocates walked at a slow pace along the footbridge that led to Central Plaza, where the Swiss Consulate General is situated.

Once in front of the Central Plaza building, a short program ensued with Eman Villanueva, secretary general of the United Filipinos in Hong Kong (UNIFIL-MIGRANTE-IMA), reading the statement that the IMA released on the occasion of the 5th GFMD.

Other organizations participating in the protest were the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM), Association of Indonesian Migrant Workers (ATKI-HK), Indonesian Migrant Workers Union (IMWU-HK), Asia Pacific Students and Youth Association (ASA), Filipino Migrant Workers Union, Association of Filipino Women Migrant Workers (FILWOM), and Filipino Migrants Association (FMA-HK).

Draft resolution may be one sided

Indonesia Scores in Fight for Women Migrant Workers Protection

Ismira Lutfia | November 24, 2011 / Jakarta Globe

A UN committee has approved a draft resolution presented by Indonesia on violence against women migrant workers, but activists warn that it wields no power unless it is ratified by all host and origin countries.

In a statement released on Thursday, Yusra Khan, Indonesian deputy permanent representative to the United Nations, said that the resolution was meant to improve protection for women migrant workers from violence, abuse, discrimination and exploitation.

The resolution was initiated by the Philippines and Indonesia, the countries sending out the highest number of migrant workers, and was approved by consensus at a meeting of the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly.

“The issue of violence against migrant workers, especially women, has long been a major concern for the government and the people of Indonesia,” Yusra said.

“This resolution stresses the importance of a holistic approach in dealing with women migrant workers, where protection of the workers’ rights must be accompanied by efforts to recognize their dignity and their contribution to the development of the community in both the origin and destination countries.”

According to a UN statement, the approval means the General Assembly will call on governments that have not yet done so to “adopt and implement legislation and policies that protect all women migrant domestic workers and call on them — in particular those of the countries of origin and destination — to put in place penal and criminal sanctions.”

It also urged all governments to “take action to prevent and punish any form of illegal deprivation of the liberty of women migrant workers by individuals or groups.”

Haris Azhar, coordinator of the Commission on Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), welcomed the approval of the draft resolution, but raised some doubt about its effectiveness.

“It’s a positive step, but a resolution is politically binding by nature, and not legally binding, which would require all governments to implement it into their legal systems,” he said.

He added that it was important that the provisions in the resolution be made legally binding for all destination countries for migrant workers that were members of the United Nations.

“If it’s only adopted by countries that send migrant workers, such as Indonesia and the Philippines, and not by the host countries, then it will be one-sided,” Haris said.

See the article here

Mixed results for permanent residency fight for migrant domestic workers

Foreign maids in Hong Kong fight for permanent residency

Unlike lawyers or bankers, domestic workers are barred from seeking permanent residency even after decades in the city. Recent legal challenges have produced mixed results.

For the last 20 years, Josephine Gutierrez, a native of the Philippines, toiled six days a week in the home of a Hong Kong family. On her day off, she attended church and was active in charity work. Her fourth child was born in Hong Kong.

But a Hong Kong court has ruled that she doesn't have the right to permanently settle in the city she has called home since 1991.

At the heart of the case is Hong Kong's immigration ordinance, which bars domestic workers and contract laborers from being eligible for permanent residence. Lawyers, bankers or teachers, among other professionals, are allowed to apply for residence after seven years.

The judge ruled that Gutierrez and her son had failed to demonstrate they had made Hong Kong their permanent home.

"There is a distinction between severing links with one's country of origin and the making of Hong Kong as one's permanent residence," Judge Johnson Lam wrote in his ruling this month. "Before one can make a place his or her only permanent residence, he or she must take some concrete steps turning such aspiration into a realistic proposition in terms of long-term livelihood at that place."

The vast majority of Hong Kong's 292,000 domestic workers are from
Southeast Asia, mainly Indonesia and the Philippines. These two groups made up 2.9% of the population, according to the 2006 census. White foreigners from Western countries, in contrast, made up 0.5%.

Gutierrez can remain in Hong Kong as long as she continues working and has a visa sponsored by her employer. She applied for residency in the hope of retiring in the city.

"This shows how difficult it is to become a permanent resident in Hong Kong," said attorney Mark Daly, who represents Gutierrez and other maids fighting for residency, according to the
South China Morning Post. Daly said Gutierrez and her son would appeal the case, the paper reported.

In September, Lam sided with another domestic worker, Evangeline Banao Vallejos, saying rules that prevented her from applying for permanent residency were unconstitutional. The government has said it will appeal.

Vallejos has lived in the city since 1986 and has been working for the same family for more than two decades. The judge ruled that she had planted enough roots to warrant granting the right of abode.

Political parties and organizations in the city worry that allowing domestic workers to gain permanent residency would put a burden on Hong Kong's social services and lead to an influx of additional immigrants, as maids sponsor family members for visas.

In a sign that a majority of Hong Kong citizens are opposed to the maids' cause, a political party that supported immigration rights for the maids incurred heavy losses in a district council election this month.

As a result, party leader Alan Leong told a TV station, the Civic Party won't support granting permanent residence status to half a million domestic workers and their families.

At the same time, experts believe Vallejos' case has the potential to give all domestic workers the chance to apply for permanent residency by striking down the ban on their doing so.

"The legal argument of the foreign domestic workers is quite strong and the court's judgment was thoroughly reasoned," said Kelley Loper, an assistant law professor at the University of Hong Kong. "I think the case has a good chance of holding up in the higher courts."

If Vallejos prevails at the Court of Final Appeal, the highest court in Hong Kong, the government or the court can still ask that the case be taken up by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress in
Beijing. That body has the ultimate jurisdiction for interpreting the Basic Law, the city's constitution.

And even if maids win the right to apply, immigration officials would still determine whether they meet the criteria for residency, Loper said.

Some officials in Hong Kong are already calling for the government to preempt a high court decision and have Beijing step in. The last time Beijing interpreted the Basic Law on an immigration issue was in 1999 when it reversed a court decision that would have allowed as many as 300,000 mainland Chinese to claim residency.

Read article here