An Indonesian domestic worker and citizen journalist was deported from Hong Kong for overstaying her visa today, prompting an outcry from advocates who said she was being unfairly persecuted for her reporting on the city’s long-running protest movement.
Yuli Riswati — who wrote about, among other things, the city’s pro-democracy protests for the outlets Suara and Migran Pos — had worked in Hong Kong for 10 years before being arrested for overstaying her visa and detained at Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre on the grounds that she had nowhere else to stay, a claim her employer reportedly denied, according to a support group.
Although her visa expired on July 7, Riswati had more than a year left on her two-year employment contract, which would typically enable her employer to simply confirm their relationship and renew the visa relatively hassle-free — something the employer sought to do so Riswati could resume her role as an elder caregiver, according to a statement today from the International Domestic Workers Federation (IDWF).
A representative of the Hong Kong Federation of Domestic Workers Unions was quoted in the statement as saying that it was quite common for domestic workers to forget to renew their visas, and that it was also usually painless for their employer to resolve the matter with a simple letter.
“I have never seen a case that the Immigration will go to the homes and arrest workers based on” such a case, the representative said.
A small group of protesters had gathered at Immigration Tower today to speak out against Riswati’s imminent deportation.
Indonesian helper Yuli Riswati, an award-winning writer who’s covered the #antiELAB protests, will be deported this afternoon. She was arrested & detained for overstaying her visa. Her supporters protested outside Immigratoon Tower & called Yuli’s treatment political persecution. pic.twitter.com/48nmqsdqjw
— Joanne Wong (@JOceanW) December 2, 2019
The IDWF, which had been assisting Riswati, went a step further, calling it “an unusual practice,” and “probably unlawful.”
“It is clearly a political suppression against Yuli for her writing for her speaking up for the Hong Kong protestors,” Fish Ip, regional coordinator for IDWF, said in the statement.
On Nov. 8, Riswati was allowed to file for an extension of her visa, but three days later authorities issued a removal order against her, the IDWF said. Riswati appealed against the order, but was notified on Nov. 28 that it had failed.
During her detention, immigration authorities had allegedly told her that if she wanted to be released, she would have to withdraw her application for an extension. When she finally caved to the pressure and agreed to withdraw her application, she was told the reason she cited on her paperwork — that she had been in detention too long — was unacceptable.
“Then, I wrote that I withdraw my visa because I am being detained for too long and don’t know when I can go back,” Riswati reportedly told her friends from detention. “Again the officer said I cannot write that because the lawyer will give them troubles. In the end, against my will, I have to write I withdraw the visa, and I will go back to Indonesia to apply for a visa again.”
Riswati was reportedly placed a flight from Hong Kong to Surabaya, Indonesia this afternoon, HKFP reports.
Representatives for the Immigration Department could not be reached for comment on Riswati’s case.
Riswati has been recognized in the past for her work as a citizen journalist, and was a finalist for the 2018 Taiwan Literature Award for Migrants for her reporting on sexual violence against Indonesian migrant workers.
Read more coverage of Hong Kong’s ongoing protest movement at Coconuts HK.