Washington had placed Hong Kong on its ‘tier two watch list’ for the second year in a row – meaning that the SAR does not “fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so”.
Other countries or regions included in the tier two watch list include Cambodia, Pakistan, Jordan, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Brunei and Ireland. China was put among the third tier of countries deemed to be failing to make any significant efforts to stamp out human trafficking.
The US report concluded that the SAR government had made “minimal efforts to protect victims”, and that its victim identification procedures were ineffective to the extent that they were punished for crimes that traffickers compelled them to commit.
It also said non-governmental organisations and other civic organisations have become less willing to work with the authorities against trafficking because of the imposition of the national security law last year, and recommended improvements in how victims are screened and how traffickers are investigated and prosecuted.
The report also called for a dedicated and comprehensive anti-trafficking law in Hong Kong.
But the SAR government released a statement sweeping aside the criticism, saying Washington had ignored the “unparalleled efforts” by local authorities in proactively combatting human trafficking.
“The report’s accusation of the lack of enforcement, prosecution or assistance is entirely baseless,” a spokesman said.
He noted that a dedicated division has been set up within the Labour Department to better protect the rights of foreign domestic helpers, while the Immigration Department has also put in place a special investigation team to look into trafficking offences.
Of 6,900 initial screening conducted by the authorities in 2020, only three victims were identified, the spokesman said.
“The very small number and percentage of victims identified reinforces our observation all along that TIP (trafficking in persons) has never been a prevalent problem in Hong Kong,” he said.
The spokesman also said Hong Kong has no obligation to enact a dedicated anti-trafficking law, saying its multi-legislation approach has proven to be effective.
However, human rights lawyer Patricia Ho – founder of rights group Hong Kong Dignity Institute – said she’s disagrees with the government’s argument that human trafficking has never been a prevalent problem in Hong Kong.
“I think if you speak to any NGO in Hong Kong that works in the field of human trafficking, you won’t find anybody who would agree with that,” she said.
“It really raises questions why the government wouldn’t see the same thing; There are reports out that talk about widespread human trafficking in the domestic help field, in the construction field, in the F&B field, and you have traffickers that function in multiple fields, like people who traffic weapons or drugs are the same people who traffic human beings as well, usually for sexual exploitation.”
Ho said the government needs to stop turning a blind eye to “a situation that should be quite obvious”, and do more to address the issue.
Last updated: 2021-07-02 HKT 15:44