On 15 July refugees protested at ISS Mongkok against being made homeless with disregard of women and children. On 2 August refugees took their action to ISS Prince Edward to oppose slum housing that condemns hundreds to dangerous living conditions. On 24 September, Vision First assisted refugees to apply for a police notice to protest outside the ISS Tsuen Wan office.
Changes to food distribution were the trigger point, though widespread dissatisfaction with welfare assistance has mobilized the community over the summer. Demonstrations appear to be building up towards a meeting with the Legislative Council Complaint Section on 15 October and the second session with the Legislative Council Panel on Welfare. Refugees are keeping up the pressure.
Public meetings attended by more than 50 persons require a police notification. This removes the element of surprise and much spontaneity from any manifestation. There was also the certainty that nobody would be allowed into the building, let alone the ISS office, a disappointing though inevitable drawback. Refugees were frustrated, but abided the law.
On the street, 80 protesters were matched one-for-one by the police, including a dozen CID officers who paced nervously, keeping refugees under vigilant watch. The authorities designated an acceptable protest zone by the building entrance. Most demonstrators obliged, though many roamed the streets displeased with the overwhelming police presence. And backup vans were around the corner.
Several refugees had made appointment with caseworkers before the protest was announced. Those appointments were duly cancelled. Others phoned in to visit and were told staff was away. ISS was determined to neither negotiate, nor acknowledge any complaints. That was final! Previous experiences made ISS intransigence clear. The demonstrators had no illusions today would be different.
With police mediation, attempts were made to set up a meeting with ISS bunkered down in state of fear. Assurances were made that refugees came in peace. Besides, it seemed that all the Tsuen Wan police revolvers were on Chuen Long Street! At 4pm a delegation of a Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Srilankan and two Africans ventured upstairs with a police escort. The aim was to express these points:
- Refugees are not allowed to work
- Refugees depend entirely on ISS assistance to survive
- Refugees receive insufficient rations of poor quality food
- Refugees oppose the change from 3x to 6x a month food collection
Not a big deal by any account. The delegation was not impressed by the door ISS bolted before them. It was a repeat of the Prince Edward stonewalling treatment. Such tactics were disappointing to everyone and infuriating to some. The obstruction to talks was absolute. ISS staff were instructed to bunker down. Alas, an opportunity to sit down and talk was missed. ISS, the agent of social oppression, stood proud!
To avoid escalation, refugees informed the police the stalemate had to be broken. It was suggested that ISS send down ONE delegate – somebody to hide behind police shields, if need by – to listen to the pleas of those they serve. That was the absolute minimum the demonstrators would accept to call it a day and keep frayed emotions from swelling.
The ISS leadership relented realized it was a reasonable demand. Mr. Ben Hon, Security Manager, was delegated to descend to the street and hear it straight from the crowd. The protesters were seriously disappointed at his sight and asked for the manager or a case worker instead. Regrettably, for reasons other than diplomacy nobody else would give respect to highly vulnerable refugees. Another sad day for ISS.
Caught between a rock (no work permits) and a hard place (insufficient food), refugees are degraded and forced to beg. The Culture of Rejection is strong. Immigration has rejected 3,644 torture claimants since December. The 1200$ rent assistance hardly secures a hut in the slums. The food supplied is insufficient and often spoiled. The cost of schooling and medical care are not fully covered. There are no provisions for clothes, shoes and other daily necessities.
However, 15-22 month incarceration are guaranteed for those who risking part-time work. Does any resident wish to experience this struggle just for one month? It is apparent that only a HUNGER STRIKE will draw adequate attention to the hardship that is exasperating refugees by intent and by design.