Hong Kong: Concerns over Immigration Detention Centre Conditions and Migrant Worker Rights

Human rights lawyers have raised concerns over the high risk conditions of Immigration Detention Centres for the spread of COVID-19 amongst detainees. Castle Peak Bay Immigration Detention Centre has been particularly criticised following reports of “rats in the premises, malfunctioning toilets, a lack of bleach for disinfection, no access or insufficient access to soap and hand sanitisers.”

Hong Kong politician Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung also stated that detainees spend majority of their times in crowded rooms of 4-60 people, following his visit on the 12th March. Most detainees from the centre are from Vietnam, Central America, South America, India and Pakistan.

The Immigration Department have responded saying they have improved cleaning and disinfection since the outbreak of the disease, with new arrivals who have recently travelled outside Hong Kong being segregated and collecting saliva samples for COVID-19 tests. Exact dates or statistics on tests and when precautions were put in place are however not mentioned. The Department of Health have also claimed that any detainees that show symptoms of Covid-19 will be sent to public hospitals.

The Hong Kong government began to deny entry to all non-Hong Kong residents from overseas travelling by plane on the 25 March. Chair of the Refugee Union Adella Namagembe also reported that asylum seekers continue to be detained in immigration centres. Detainees that are being tested for Covid-19 are further given surgical masks, hand sanitiser, hand washing soap and toilet cleaning products. Asylum seekers are asked to report to the Immigration Department regularly, where their temperature is checked but are all required to report on the same date every six weeks. Deportations do not appear to be taking place. 

Refugees have called for more financial support due to not being allowed to work during the Covid-19 breakout and have lodged personal complaint letters over the urgent need for government support to meet basic responses but had not received positive responses. On the 19 March, the Social Welfare Department stated they had shared notices and preventative measures and translated them into ethnic minority languages.

Migrant Domestic Workers have been excluded from many of the government’s containment policies. In January, the Labour Department was criticises for issuing a public notice encouraging domestic workers to stay home in order to reduce the risk of spread. The organisation ‘Mission for Migrant Workers’ conducted a survey in March 2020 which found that 40% out of the 1,127 migrant domestic workers surveyed said their labour rights had been curtailed during the outbreak. This included not being given masks or sanitiser when being forced to work excessive hours, and being deprived of the ability to take their annual leave. The Hong Kong Federation of Asian Domestic Workers Unions have also criticised the government for its lack of clear quarantine guidance for its workers such as what to do if workers encounter inadequate accommodation or unlawful dismissal in relation to quarantine policies.

The Immigration Department have however announced a “flexibility arrangement” for migrant workers, with the Commissioner for Labour giving in-principle consent for a one month extension of migrant domestic worker contracts that would have expired on the 31st march 2020 and 30th June.

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