Indonesia’s top envoy in Hong Kong has called on the city’s government to step up action against loan sharking syndicates that target domestic helpers, who are usually forced to surrender their passports in exchange for borrowing money.
Consul general Tri Tharyat also urged helpers not to hand over their passports to others and advised those who had fallen victim to loan sharks to report it to the Indonesian consulate or Hong Kong police.
The calls were made at a briefing at the Indonesian consulate in Causeway Bay on Sunday where Tharyat explained to about 50 participating helpers their rights while working in Hong Kong and provided general information about local laws.
The briefing followed a high-profile case in July in which Hong Kong police arrested a local man suspected of running a HK$3 million (US$384,000) illegal moneylending racket and confiscated more than 800 Indonesian and Philippine passports, believed to have been used as collateral.
Indonesian consulate representatives raised the issue with Hong Kong’s No 2 official, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, at a meeting earlier this month which Philippine consul general Antonio Morales also attended.
“The Indonesian consulate and the Philippine consulate met [Cheung] to convey our concern regarding many migrant workers becoming victims of illegal moneylending operations in Hong Kong,” Tharyat said.
“We requested the government of Hong Kong to take strong actions against those practices.”
There are about 360,000 foreign maids in Hong Kong, mostly from the Philippines and Indonesia. Their minimum pay is HK$4,520 a month and employers must provide accommodation and food.
Foreign helpers are not allowed to take up secondary employment. In many cases, they take out loans to pay unscrupulous job agencies that charge excessive fees. Some also face pressure from families to send more money home. They might then turn to loan sharks and hand over their passports.
A victim in the July case attended the briefing. The helper said she needed money so badly she approached a “street money lender” in June and borrowed HK$4,000 to wire back to her family in Indonesia. She was told to pay HK$440 a month in interest alone and repay the loan within six months.