The mental well-being of two Hong Kong men who were allegedly lured overseas and kidnapped by gangs of scammers in Southeast Asia was in a “severe condition,” a former district councillor who is in contact with their families has said.

Former vice-chairperson of the Yau Tsim Mong District Council Andy Yu. File photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Speaking on Commercial Radio on Thursday, Andy Yu, the former vice-chairperson of the Yau Tsim Mong District Council, said the families and friends of the two Hongkongers approached him on Wednesday to ask for help.

The two men in their twenties, who left the city in June, are believed to have been detained overseas forced to take part in online scamming activities.

Yu said their captors would not release them unless their families paid around HK$100,000 in ransom or until they had raised a specified sum through scams.

The pair last talked with their families or friends via phone on Monday and said they had not been physically attacked or denied meals, according to Yu. But their mental health was in “severe condition” and both had suicidal thoughts.

The families of the pair made a report to Hong Kong police in June, Yu said, adding that the police had not been in contact since.

File photo: Imagens Evangélicas via Flickr.

Yu said he and the families were now working with a Hong Kong-based organisation that aims to combat human trafficking, and had already discovered where the pair were being held. One was being detained in a region of Myanmar outside the control of the central government, Yu said, he did not specify where the other was being held.

The former district councillor said the organisation had written to the city’s Security Bureau. “Can the Security Bureau meet the families and let them know it has directions or plans to assist them?” he asked.

In addition, Yu said authorities should step up anti-scam education and investigate whether the fraud syndicates had branches in Hong Kong that lured residents overseas and arranged their visas.

Government reactions

Since January, the police have received 12 reports from people claiming to have been detained overseas over online job or love scams.

Immigration Department. File photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

The Immigration Department, meanwhile, had received 17 requests for assistance, of which 12 had safely left the countries in question. It was not clear whether these cases overlapped the police cases.

The Security Bureau said in a statement early on Thursday that it “attaches great importance” to the incidents. It would “actively follow up” the cases and maintain close contact with families, the Chinese consulates in countries concerned, and foreign law enforcement agencies.

The local office of China’s Foreign Ministry said in a press release on Wednesday that it would “do its utmost to safeguard the safety and legal rights of Hong Kong compatriots overseas.”

“[We are] pushing related Chinese embassies to work with local governments and actively investigate the whereabouts of people who lost contact,” it said.

It said it issued reminders in February to warn Chinese citizens to be careful about visiting certain areas in Myanmar because of the country’s “complex safety situation.”

If you are experiencing negative feelings, please call: The Samaritans 2896 0000 (24-hour, multilingual), Suicide Prevention Centre 2382 0000 or the Social Welfare Department 2343 2255. The Hong Kong Society of Counselling and Psychology provides a WhatsApp hotline in English and Chinese: 6218 1084.

See also: HKFP’s comprehensive guide to mental health services in Hong Kong

Support HKFP  |  Code of Ethics  |  Error/typo?  |  Contact Us  |  Newsletter  | Transparency & Annual Report

Support press freedom & help us surpass 1,000 monthly Patrons: 100% independent, governed by an ethics code & not-for-profit, Hong Kong Free Press is #PressingOn with impartial, award-winning, frontline coverage.

Peter Lee

Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.