Hong Kong government rejects 2024 Trafficking in Persons Report claims as unfounded

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25th June 2024 – (Hong Kong) The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) has strongly refuted allegations made in the 2024 Trafficking in Persons Report by the U.S. Department of State, describing them as baseless and misinformed. The report, which places Hong Kong on a Tier 2 Watch List, has been criticised by HKSAR officials for lacking substantial evidence and unfairly portraying the region’s efforts against human trafficking.

A spokesperson from the HKSAR government articulated the administration’s disappointment and stern opposition to the findings of the report. “The allegations laid out in the report are not only unfounded but also falsely represent the situation in Hong Kong. There is no data to suggest that trafficking in persons is a significant issue here, nor that Hong Kong serves as a hub or transit point for such activities,” the spokesperson said.

The government highlighted its ongoing commitment to combatting trafficking in persons (TIP) through a robust and multi-faceted approach. In 2023, Hong Kong increased its screening efforts by 45% over the previous year, conducting approximately 11,000 initial screenings among vulnerable groups. Despite the intensified efforts, only three victims were identified, which the government argues demonstrates the rarity of trafficking within the region.

Hong Kong has also put significant resources into protecting foreign domestic helpers (FDHs), who constitute a considerable portion of the workforce. Measures have included the establishment of a special division within the Immigration Department to scrutinize FDH visa applications closely and identify potential TIP victims or cases of exploitation. Additionally, comprehensive protections under the Employment Ordinance offer FDHs benefits on par with local workers, supplemented by government-mandated provisions like free accommodation and medical treatment.

Further reinforcing these safeguards, the Labour Department introduced a revised Code of Practice in May 2024 for employment agencies, tightening regulations to prevent exploitation of FDHs. The new code prohibits agencies from involving themselves in the financial affairs of domestic helpers or withholding personal documents like passports.

The government’s efforts extend beyond protective measures to proactive training and awareness campaigns. In 2023, there was a significant increase in training sessions related to TIP, attended by nearly 1,900 officers from various government departments and agencies. The Hong Kong International Airport also implemented new workshops in 2024 to train frontline staff on combating TIP.

Addressing the report’s critique regarding the lack of composite trafficking legislation, the spokesperson defended Hong Kong’s legal framework, which comprises over 50 legal provisions against various forms of trafficking. “Our legal framework has been effective and is comparable to the composite TIP laws found in other jurisdictions. The effectiveness of our anti-trafficking efforts has not been compromised,” the spokesperson remarked.

Officials also pointed out the continuous vigilance of law enforcement agencies in tackling related crimes, noting an increase in anti-vice operations and the arrest and prosecution of offenders involved in exploiting FDHs.

The HKSAR government reasserted its dedication to upholding human rights while safeguarding national security, emphasising that legislation targets only those posing a genuine threat to security, without compromising the rights and freedoms protected under both the Basic Law and applicable international covenants.