LCQ13: Comprehensive and multi-faceted measures by HKSAR to combat trafficking in persons

     Following is a question by the Hon Dennis Kwok and a written reply by the Secretary for Security, Mr Lai Tung-kwok, in the Legislative Council today (March 29):


     The Department of State of the United States publishes a Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP Report) every year to evaluate the human trafficking situations in various countries/regions. The TIP Report rates the countries/regions according to their governments' performance in combating human trafficking, with Tier 1 being the highest ranking out of the four tiers. Hong Kong's ranking in the TIP Report dropped from Tier 2 in 2015 to "Tier 2 Watch List" in 2016. In response to the 2016 TIP Report, the Government advised that law enforcement officers (including police and immigration officers) received regular training, which covered specialised skills and knowledge for identifying victims of human trafficking (HT victims). Moreover, the Government provided diversified assistance (including welfare, medical and psychological counselling assistance), protection and care services to HT victims. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the details of the aforesaid training received by law enforcement officers, including (i) the name(s) of provider(s), (ii) the contents, frequency and duration of the training, (iii) the participants' grades and ranks and (iv) the date(s) of revision made in the past five years to the training contents;

(2) of the name(s) of the provider(s) of and eligibility criteria for the aforesaid assistance/services; the procedure for vetting and approval for applications for such assistance/services and the personnel in charge of the procedure;

(3) as the British Government currently allows HT victims to stay in the country for up to two years and work as domestic helpers, whether the authorities will consider allowing HT victims to stay and work in Hong Kong for a certain period of time, so that they may seek legal redress without fear of deportation; if not, of the reasons for that;

(4) as the British Government currently issues letters to confirm the persons concerned are genuine HT victims or victims of slavery, whether the authorities give recognition to this type of documentary proofs; if so, of the countries or jurisdictions whose documentary proofs are recognised; if not, the reason for that;

(5) as the authorities indicated in February 2013 that an "action card" serving as a checklist/guidelines for debriefing HT victims had been widely distributed to frontline officers to assist them in identifying potential victims, of the details of the action card, including whether it sets out a mandatory initial screening procedure; if not, under what circumstances the Government conducts initial screening; whether frontline officers proactively screen a reporting person for ascertaining signs of human trafficking at present; of the criteria that need to be met by reporting persons for them to be regarded as an HT victim;

(6) of the number of prosecutions instituted in the past five years against operators of employment agencies for withholding the passports of foreign domestic helpers (FDHs); the procedure followed by frontline officers in handling complaints about operators of employment agencies (i) withholding FDHs' passports and (ii) overcharging FDHs; and

(7) whether there is a specific category of visa for application by foreigners who intend to work as entertainers in bars and clubs in Hong Kong; if so, of the relevant details, including (i) whether such visa applications must be accompanied with the information of sponsors/guarantors, (ii) the conditions of stay set out in the visas, (iii) the number of visas issued in the past five years, (iv) the countries/regions from which the applicants concerned came, and (v) if officers of the Immigration Department currently conducts inspections of the working places of visa-holders to check if the conditions of stay have been complied with; if so, of the details?



     In consultation with the Labour Department (LD) and the Social Welfare Department (SWD), the reply to Hon Dennis Kwok's question is as follows:

     Although there is no sign that Hong Kong is being actively used by syndicates as a destination or transit point for human trafficking, or that human trafficking is a prevalent or widespread problem in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government attaches great importance to combating trafficking in persons (TIP).  We have put in place a package of effective and comprehensive legislative and administrative measures to combat TIP with continuous enhancements. 

     The "2016 Trafficking in Persons Report" published by the Department of State of the United States was however not doing justice to the HKSAR Government. Its findings have displayed a total disregard of our continuous and strenuous efforts to tackle TIP. In particular, we cannot accept the allegation that Hong Kong is a destination, transit and source territory for men, women and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour. The HKSAR Government vehemently and categorically rejects Hong Kong's grading in the Report.

(1) to (5) The measures put in place by the HKSAR Government to combat TIP are comprehensive and multi-faceted. They include, among other things:

(i) Identification of victims

     Since July 2016, the Hong Kong Police Force (Police) and Immigration Department (ImmD) have put in place a new guideline and enhanced mechanism for human trafficking victim screening and identification, which have replaced the "action card" mentioned in the question. Customs and Excise Department (C&ED) has also implemented a human trafficking victim screening mechanism since March 2017. It is a two-tier victim identification and referral mechanism. The first tier features a standard procedure under which the Police, ImmD or C&ED officers would conduct initial screening on vulnerable persons, including sex workers, illegal immigrants and FDHs, etc., who are arrested or who put themselves forward to the authorities with a view to ascertaining whether they are human trafficking victims. When any human trafficking indicator is revealed in initial screening, officers will conduct a full debriefing and identification process by using a standardised checklist to ascertain the presence of human trafficking elements, such as threat and coercion in the recruitment phase and nature of exploitation.

     Under the second tier response, identified human trafficking victims will be referred to relevant departments for follow-up and will be provided with holistic and humane protection, including urgent intervention, medical services, counselling, shelter and other supporting services according to their individual situations.

(ii) Protection

     Each and every potential TIP victim identified would be provided with, among other things, the following support/protection:

(a) When circumstances warrant, the Police will activate witness protection programme to protect the victims from further exploitation; they would also seek assistance from overseas law enforcement agencies (LEAs) for providing assistance and assurance to victims and families in their home country; 

(b) the victims will be provided with the necessary support and assistance in a timely manner, including the provision of shelter, medical services, psychological support, counselling and financial assistance, etc. Where necessary, SWD will assist to assess the welfare needs for the victims and provide them with the appropriate services;

(c) departments concerned may consider providing financial assistance to victims residing overseas to enable them to return to Hong Kong to testify as witnesses. The assistance covers expenses incurred during their stay in Hong Kong, including accommodation, passage, daily subsistence and visa processing fees, etc.; 

(d) departments concerned will bring the cases to the attention of the Prosecutions Division of the Department of Justice (DoJ) promptly with all relevant materials and information, so that a timely and proper assessment of the issue, including the question of immunity, can be made by the DoJ; 

(e) ImmD will grant visa extension and waive the visa fees for victims who need to stay in Hong Kong to act as prosecution witnesses in legal proceedings instituted by the Police, ImmD or LD; and 

(f) ImmD may also consider granting exceptional approval for FDHs to change employers when there is evidence suggesting they are being exploited or abused by their employers.

(iii) Training

     Training on anti-human trafficking is offered to the officers of LEAs, LD, SWD and prosecutors of DoJ, etc. In 2016, over 1 000 government officials from Security Bureau (SB), DoJ, Police, ImmD, LD, C&ED and SWD have received local/overseas TIP-related training. Relevant LEAs have included the theme of TIP into their induction training for all officers. LD has also included training on labour legislation which provides protection against, among other things, child labour and exploitation such as non-granting of statutory holidays and underpayment of wages for their officers. In addition, LEAs, LD and DoJ have also organised specialised training for relevant officers.  

     In recent years, the Government invited experts focusing on human trafficking from the European Union and other non-government organisations (for example, Liberty Asia and the Mekong Club) to conduct specialised training workshops to the officers from various bureau and departments, including SB, DoJ, Police, ImmD, C&ED, LD and SWD. The training covered prevention of human trafficking, victim identification and protection, investigation techniques, relevant legislation and case law, trend of the crime, etc. Besides, various departments also actively participate in various international conferences and workshops to identify the best practice to combat human trafficking and share human trafficking intelligence and experience.

(6) According to information provided by the LD, an employment agency (EA), without obtaining the explicit consent of a job-seeker, shall not retrieve or withhold any personal property of the job-seeker concerned, including his/her passport, or the EA concerned may contravene the Theft Ordinance (Cap.210). Upon receipt of complaints from FDHs against EAs keeping their passports without their consent, the LD will refer the cases to the Police for investigation.  

     EAs in Hong Kong are regulated by Part XII of the Employment Ordinance (Cap. 57) and the Employment Agency Regulations (Cap. 57A) which stipulate that an EA must obtain a licence before operation and the fees it charges on a job-seeker shall not exceed the prescribed commission, which is 10% of the first month's salary of the job-seeker upon successful placement. LD has been taking rigorous enforcement actions against EAs on charging job-seekers excessive placement fees. Upon receipt of a complaint concerning a job-seeker being overcharged, LD will initiate investigation immediately. Where there is sufficient evidence, prosecution will be instituted. The complainant concerned will be invited to act as prosecution witness where necessary.

(7) There is no specific category of visa for foreigners working as entertainers in bars and clubs in Hong Kong. Non-local professionals who possess special skills, knowledge or experience of value to and not readily available in the HKSAR may apply to come to work under the General Employment Policy (GEP), which is applicable to foreign nationals as well as residents of Taiwan and Macau, or under the Admission Scheme for Mainland Talents and Professionals (ASMTP), which is applicable to Mainland residents. These two immigration policy/scheme are quota-free and non-sector specific. The application may be favourably considered if the applicant fulfils normal immigration requirements and the eligibility criteria. In addition, the employer must provide relevant information and documentary proof in support of the application. Those allowed to come to Hong Kong on employment condition are subject to conditions of stay. They can only take such employment as approved by the Director of Immigration, and their duration of stay permitted in Hong Kong will depend on the justification for and period of such employment. ImmD does not maintain the statistics on visas issued specific to foreigners working as entertainers in bars and clubs under the two policy/scheme.
     ImmD has all along been strictly assessing applications for coming to Hong Kong for employment. It is the responsibility of both the applicants and employers to provide full and correct information to ImmD. During assessment of applications, ImmD may conduct field inspection on the relevant workplace where necessary. ImmD also conducts spot checks related to employment visa/entry permit applications from time to time, including inspections of the relevant workplace to verify that the mode of operation, work environment and number of employees, etc. are consistent with the information declared by the applicant or his/her employing company.

Ends/Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Issued at HKT 18:18