Migrant alliance calls on Duterte to exempt HK, Macau OFWs from travel ban

Jan Yumul, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 06 2020 07:37 PM

International Migrants' Alliance Hong Kong and Macau Chapter (IMA-HKM) on the HK government not to forget the almost 400,000 domestic workers in its fight against the novel coronavirus outbreak. Jan Yumul, ABS-CBN News

HONG KONG - The International Migrants' Alliance Hong Kong and Macau Chapter (IMA-HKM) is calling on President Rodrigo Duterte to exempt Hong Kong-based migrant workers, residents and students enrolled in Hong Kong's universities from the Philippines' China travel ban.

The group said the travel ban did not consider the immediate impact on migrant domestic workers and Filipino residents in Hong Kong and Macau.

Since their monitoring on Monday, a day after the travel ban had been expanded to Hong Kong and Macau, the group has documented at least 30 migrant workers who were unable to take their flights to Hong Kong with many worried over losing their jobs.

"Now, what we're demanding from the Philippine government is to, not exactly lift the travel ban, but to exempt the Filipino workers in Hong Kong and Macau to allow them to leave the country, also the Filipino residents in Hong Kong and Macau," said Eman Villanueva, secretary general of United Filipinos in Hong Kong.

"Their families are here, their lives are here in Hong Kong, not in Philippines, and also the students who, at the moment may not be...the universities may not be resuming their classes yet. If they are not able to come back, it might affect also their studies here in Hong Kong. At least these three sectors should be exempted from the travel ban."

The Hong Kong government on Tuesday adopted a 'flexibility arrangement' allowing for the extension of the affected workers.

The group welcomed the arrangement, but hoped the guidelines would be more concrete.

"I think the organization here, including the service providers will be very much willing to discuss with them the details of how both migrant domestic workers and employers can be assisted here in this period," said Villanueva.

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IMA-HKM also appealed to airline companies that provide regular flights to and from the Philippines to 'make some flexibility', particularly for migrant domestic workers who have purchased tickets for their home leave as most Philippine schools enter graduation season from next month.

But because of the travel ban that includes a 14-day quarantine upon the arrival of Filipino nationals, they are having second thoughts.

"They are having second thoughts to take their home leave because some of them are only given 10 days for their home leave. The quarantine is even longer than their home leave. Many of them are thinking of cancelling their plans to take home leave. We hope the concerned airlines would provide a refund so that the migrant workers will not incur any financial loss," said Villanueva.

In Manila, a Palace official said the Philippine government will make daily assessments of the situation in China, Hong Kong and Macau before allowing Filipino migrant workers to fly out as Duterte wants to ensure safety measures are in place for the workers.

The group is also urging the Hong Kong Labor Department to withdraw their earlier announcement appealing to domestic workers "to stay at home on their rest days to safeguard their personal health and to reduce the risk of the novel coronavirus in the community."

"They might mean well, but in our experience, it has become unfair, misleading, unjust, and discriminatory against domestic workers," said IMA-HKM Chairperson Eni Lestari.

Lestari said they received a lot of complaints on February 2 from workers who were unable to spend their rest days as some employers have discouraged their helpers from leaving the house based on the advisory.

"What we would like to emphasize that during SARS (outbreak) in 2003, the domestic workers were part of the society who helped each other overcome the situation," said Lestari.

"We were part of helping the employers and the Hong Kong people to make sure that the society is taking care of each other. We take care of children and the elderly to make sure are healthy."