Torture case spotlights maid abuse issue in Hong Kong

Updated 17 January 2014
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Torture case spotlights maid abuse issue in Hong Kong

HONG KONG: Investigators from Hong Kong will travel to Indonesia to speak with a woman who left the Chinese city after she was allegedly tortured by her employer, authorities said Friday, adding they will pursue the case “relentlessly.”
Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, a 22-year-old former domestic helper, was reportedly left unable to walk after eight months of alleged abuse at the hands of the employer. She was admitted to an Indonesian hospital in critical condition after returning home last week.
Domestic workers took to the streets of Hong Kong in support of Erwiana Thursday, and demanded better protection for the city’s hundreds of thousands of foreign helpers.
During the protest, a second maid known only as “Bunga” also came forward to allege abuse at the hands of the same employer — reported to be a woman in her forties who lives with two teenage sons and a husband who is often away — four years ago.
Authorities promised action and have said police officers will be sent to Indonesia to speak with Erwiana.
“Police will be liaising with Interpol with a view to sending officers to Indonesia to take a statement from the helper,” Labor and Welfare minister Matthew Cheung told a press conference on Friday.
“We do not tolerate any abuse or exploitation of domestic helpers in Hong Kong,” Cheung said, adding that the government will “pursue the case relentlessly.”
Cheung also said the government will step up enforcement action over regulation and inspection of domestic helper employment agencies.
The agency that employed Erwiana said they were unaware of her injuries until they were notified by their corresponding agency in Indonesia.
Erwiana remains in hospital in Sragen, on the main Indonesian island of Java.
Her condition is improving and medics hope her injuries will be healed in two weeks, a spokeswoman for the Indonesian minister of manpower and transmigration has said.
The employers accused of the abuse have yet to comment publicly on the case.
The allegations have renewed concerns about the treatment of domestic helpers in the southern Chinese city, home to nearly 300,000 maids mainly from Southeast Asian countries — predominantly Indonesia and the Philippines.
A Hong Kong couple were jailed in September for attacks on their Indonesian domestic helper, which included burning her with an iron and beatings with a bike chain.
Amnesty International in November condemned the “slavery-like” conditions faced by thousands of Indonesian women who work in the Asian financial hub as domestic staff, and accused authorities of “inexcusable” inaction.
It found that Indonesians were exploited by recruitment and placement agencies who seize their documents and charge them excessive fees, with false promises of high salaries and good working conditions.
Domestic helpers in Hong Kong are paid about HK$4,000 ($515) a month.


Fury clouds funeral plans for Italy bridge victims

Updated 17 August 2018
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Fury clouds funeral plans for Italy bridge victims

  • The collapse of the Morandi bridge, a decades-old viaduct that crumbled in a storm on Tuesday killing at least 38 people, has stunned and angered the country
  • According to La Stampa newspaper, the families of 17 victims have refused to take part in the state funeral, while a further seven have yet to decide whether they will attend

GENOA: Grieving relatives wept over the coffins of dozens of victims of Genoa’s bridge disaster Friday amid growing fury over a planned state funeral, while rescuers pressed on with their tireless search for those missing in the rubble.
The collapse of the Morandi bridge, a decades-old viaduct that crumbled in a storm on Tuesday killing at least 38 people, has stunned and angered the country, with Italian media reporting that some outraged families would shun Saturday’s official ceremonies.
Italy’s government has blamed the operator of the viaduct for the tragedy and threatened to strip the firm of its contracts, while the country’s creaking infrastructure has come under fresh scrutiny.
Authorities plan a state funeral service on Saturday at a hall in Genoa, coinciding with a day of mourning.
Relatives who gathered at the hall on Friday embraced and prayed over lines of coffins, many adorned with flowers and photographs of the dead.
But according to La Stampa newspaper, the families of 17 victims have refused to take part, while a further seven have yet to decide whether they will attend.
“It is the state who has provoked this; let them not show their faces, the parade of politicians is shameful,” the press cited the mother of one of four young Italians from Naples who died.
The father of another of the dead from Naples took to social media to vent his anger.
“My son will not become a number in the catalogue of deaths caused by Italian failures,” said his grieving father, Roberto.
“We do not want a farce of a funeral but a ceremony at home.”
Despite fading hopes of finding survivors, rescue workers said they had not given up as they resumed the dangerous operation to search through the unstable mountains of debris.
“Is there anyone there? Is there anyone there?” one firefighter shouted into a cavity dug out of the piles of concrete and twisted metal, in a video published by the emergency services.
Between 10 and 20 people are still missing, according to Genoa’s chief prosecutor.
Ten people remain in hospital, six of them in a serious condition.
Hundreds of rescuers are using cranes and bulldozers to cut up and remove the biggest slabs of the fallen bridge, which slammed down onto railway tracks along with dozens of vehicles.
“We are trying to find pockets in the rubble where people could be — alive or not,” fire official Emanuele Gissi told AFP.
Officials say about 1,000 people in all are working on the disaster site, 350 of them firefighters.
The populist government has accused infrastructure giant Autostrade per L’Italia of failing to invest in sufficient maintenance and said it would seek to revoke its lucrative contracts.
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini demanded that the company offer up to 500 million euros ($570 million) to help families and local government deal with the aftermath of the disaster.
The dead also include children, one as young as eight, and three Chileans and four French nationals.
The French nationals, all in their 20s, had traveled to Italy for a music festival, and other victims included a family setting off on holiday and a couple returning from their California honeymoon.
More than 600 people were evacuated from around a dozen apartments beneath the remaining shard of bridge.
On Thursday evening the first residents of some buildings in the affected area were allowed to return home, though others are too badly damaged to save.
The Morandi viaduct dates from the 1960s and has been riddled with structural problems for decades, leading to expensive maintenance and severe criticism from engineering experts.
Its collapse prompted fears over aging infrastructure across the world.
Italy has announced a year-long state of emergency in the region.
Autostrade, which operates and maintains nearly half of Italy’s motorways, estimates it will take five months to rebuild the bridge.
It denies scrimping on motorway maintenance, saying it has invested over one billion euros a year in “safety, maintenance and strengthening of the network” since 2012.
Atlantia, the holding company of Autostrade which is 30 percent owned by iconic fashion brand Benetton, has warned that the government would have to refund the value of the contract, which runs until at least 2038.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Autostrade “had the duty and obligation to assure the maintenance of this viaduct and the security of all those who traveled on it.”
The disaster is the latest in a string of bridge collapses in Italy, where infrastructure generally is showing the effects of a faltering economy.
Senior government figures have also lashed out at austerity measures imposed by the European Union, saying they restrict investment.
But the European Commission said it had given Rome billions of euros to fix infrastructure.