The Filipina women who come to Denmark to work as au pairs not only have to work more than the 30 hours that the law allows. In a number of cases, their Danish host families have broken the law by seizing the women’s passports as a kind of guarantee that they won’t leave.
Right now, for example, a Filipina woman is trying to get her passport back from her previous host family that took it from her two months ago. She had problems and did not get along with the family, and now she wants to leave, says the Filipino General Consulate in Denmark to the online newspaper Avisen.dk.
Without her passport, she is unable to use the plane ticket that was supposed to bring her back to the Philippines, says General Consul Poul Krogh.
“The woman has been with her host family for a year, but when she wanted to leave she couldn’t get her passport back. Now the case is being processed at the Filipino embassy in Oslo,” he says.
The woman left the family because she was no longer able to work 14-15 hours per day. She was ordered to clean the host family’s home as well as with other members of the family, which goes strictly against all the au pair regulations.
Women fear losing their visa
Also the Churches’ Integration Services (KIT), which is in contact with the majority of the Filipina au pairs, have had several inquiries from au pairs whose families have seized their passports.
Recently, a woman was forced to work at the host family’s restaurant in the town of Skagen in northern Jutland. The family had taken her passport from her so that she could not leave.
KIT gave the woman a ticket to go to Norway where she was able to stay with friends, but she never got her passport back. She never reported the case to the police, which is not unusual according to Hans Henrik Lund, the leader of KIT. He says that the au pairs are afraid of being deported, because they no longer work as au pairs.
”The power is always with the Danish family, who can threaten to report the au pair to Immigration Services if they don’t do as they are told. And the Filipina women are well aware that their chance of winning is quite poor if they report the case themselves,” Hans Henrik Lund explains.
A hidden problem
Only on rare occasions, the authorities are informed when passports have been seized.
“But just because it is not reported it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen,” says Mette Pårensgaard, who is Office Manager at the Au Pair and Intern Office at the Immigration Services.
She says that every time the Immigration Services have information meetings for the filipina au pairs, the women ask about what to do if their families seize their passports. They have all heard that this has happened to others.
”We tell the girls that they should never ever hand over their passports. The host family can have a copy of the passport if they absolutely insist,” says Mette Pårengaard.
Illegal and humiliating
Having your passport taken away from you is a violating and traumatic experience, says language teacher Anne Grautier, who has taught about 1000 Filipina au pairs at a Danish language school.
“The girls are devastated – they feel declared incapable of managing their own affairs. Very humiliating for them,” she explains.
Neither the Police of Northern Zealand nor Europol have been able to inform Avisen.dk about the number of Filipino passports that are reported stolen or lost in Denmark every year.