More than 100 displaced OFWs rescued as COVID wave hits Hong Kong — NGOs

Franco Luna - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines — Non-government organizations have recorded aroud 100 overseas Filipino domestic helpers in Hong Kong who ended up homeless after their employers fired them for testing positive for COVID-19.

In an interview with Philstar.com, NGO Help for Domestic Workers said that some 90% of its rescues of domestic workers in Hong Kong involved overseas Filipino workers, while "almost everybody" is a woman. 

In most cases, domestic workers have experienced homelessness for at least one full night before being rescued by NGOs or the government, the NGO said. The ones it rescued were given shelter, supplies, and other material aid. 

"It also adds to their vulnerability because it's not just about being homeless but it's about women who are at risk being homeless. It raises the question of their safety or their access to resources," Avril Rodrigues, communications manager at HELP for Domestic Workers said, adding that the NGO saw a sharp rise in cases in the past two weeks.

"This has been overwhelming for NGOs like us...it's very hard to give a [number] of how many are still left, but when we get a call we try to support them."

A coronavirus wave driven by the highly infectious Omicron variant is currently sweeping the city, which is a Special Administrative Region of China.

Local media has reported extensively on domestic workers who were forced to sleep on the streets of Hong Kong after being refused treatment at hospitals.

'Roads are empty now'

According to a report by the South China Morning Post, another NGO, Social Justice for Migrant Workers, also assisted another 20 domestic workers who were unable to leave Hong Kong because of positive COVID-19 test results barring them from boarding their flights.

"The roads are empty here now. Every Sunday there are very few people," Marites Palma, who founded the SJMW, told Philstar.com in Filipino in an online exchange. "Hope our government will listen also to the voice of my compatriots here in Hong Kong."

In a statement sent to media, the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body demanded that the Philippine Consulate "take immediate actions to protect the health and safety of its nationals."

It said it also received reports of migrant domestic workers stranded at the airport without the needed PCR test results and waiting out their quarantine for days. 

"This inhumane treatment of [migrant domestic workers] leave them homeless in the height of winter in Hong Kong with no safe place to go or ability to protect their health in this time of crisis," the statement reads. 

"Even as we have been caring for Hong Kong society, for the over two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, often on the front lines for our employers’ families, going to the markets, caring for the young and elderly, we are disheartened that the Hong Kong government has again neglected to include us."

The Department of Labor and Employment has claimed there were no reports of overseas Filipino workers getting retrenched. 

The Philippine Consulate General in Hong Kong also said the Philippines would "blacklist" employers who terminate the contracts of Filipino workers testing positive for COVID-19.

The AMCB also urged the Hong Kong government to include migrant domestic workers in its priority categories for COVID-19. As it stands, space in the isolation facilities is reserved for at-risk populations such as children and the elderly.

"While the immediate need to provide safe shelter to those terminated for testing positive, more MDWs are contacting us daily, who are in isolation in their employers’ homes but with no food or access to medicine, masks and sanitizers. These MDWs cannot fall through the cracks of the government’s statement to 'make your own arrangements' while waiting for transfer to isolation," the AMCB said. 

Domestic wokers infected at employers' homes, then kicked out

Shiela Tebia-Bonifacio of Gabriela Hong Kong, an alliance of Filipino women migrants organizations, also told Philstar.com that most domestic helpers get infected with COVID-19 inside the homes of their employers.

She said many of them still held gatherings at home during the Omicron surge.

"They're the ones who take care of the houses here. They know how to take care of themselves," Tebia-Bonifacio, herself a domestic worker, said in Filipino. 

"We don't have houses to go back to if we test positive. The hospitals tell us to go home and isolate, but what employers would let us go back inside?"

HELP for Domestic Workers added that requests for mental health counseling are also becoming commonplace among OFWs who tested positive for COVID-19. 

"A lot of domestic workers have suffered emotional trauma...[a lot] of them are still not sure about what the future holds," Rodrigues said. 

"We are working on a more longer-term solution, because what happens after the quarantine?... It's really a difficult situation that the workers are facing and we really have to start thinking about a more long-term strategy."

Tebia-Bonifacio said that Gabriela Hong Kong was "pushing the Philippine government to act with urgency."

"NGOs also have limited capacity. They're not funded by big companies. So they're having a difficult time, even if they're doing what they can," she added. 



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