In the rural area around Ping Che (Fanling) live about 150 Bangladeshi asylum seekers and torture claimants who have nobody to turn to for help. There are also refugees of other nationalities residing in that area, but this community is suffering the worst conditions. Besides the issue that not a single Bangladeshi has been accepted as torture victim in 21 years, their appalling living conditions are a matter of social justice and human rights. The squalid reality of their shanty homes must be exposed for several reasons:
- Wasted years: some haven’t been contacted by Immigration in 6-7 years. Multiply 12,409 torture claimants (since 1992) by an average 4 year delay = 49,636 years. Divided this by an average lifetime of 75 years = 661 lives wasted waiting for ultimate rejection. The Immigration Department’s strategy is to force claimants to give up and leave in desperation. Justice delayed is justice denied.
- Exploitation: this landlord houses 12 distressed refugees to collect rent of 1200$ a month per person. There are no proper roofs or walls, yet he has installed electricity meters to make sure he earns a profit on their utility bills. Who authorized or allowed this to happen? The Agricultural Department wouldn’t permit a pig farm in these conditions!
- Dangerous conditions: lightning could strike the tree … rain and flooding could spark electrocution … gas cylinders could explode … the shanty homes could collapse in a storm, let alone in a typhoon. These shacks are not fit for human habitation and are infested by cats, insects, rodents and snakes. Yet a mother lives there with a baby! Who approved these homes?
- Unsanitary quarters: there is no plumbing or sewerage. Kitchens, showers and toilets flow into open conduits infested by insects, rodents and … disease. Residents wait for the rain to wash the ducts and outlets clean. Luggage is stored in the rafters, away from the damp floor. Who inspected these premises? Who has a duty to check refugee homes?
- Illegal structures: this yard is not zoned for residential use and the rooms do not meant any safety standard. The dwellings would never pass Land Department certification or Fire Department approval for any kind of use. Why are unscrupulous landlords lining their pockets with government rent assistance? Who authorized renting these rooms to refugees? Does ISS have actual or constructive knowledge of this?
- Public funds: Is this misappropriation of government funds? It appears that SWD (and their agent ISS) is unaware of these deplorable conditions. Is anyone complicit with those who profit from this arrangement? In 2012 ISS received 143 million HK$ to support refugees. ISS rejects substandard rooms in Chung King Mansions and Kowloon, but appear to turn a blind eye in the New Territories. Has ISS visited these homes? Are these inhuman conditions approved by ISS? Could this be a deliberate strategy to marginalize and frustrate refugees?
- Criminalization: fearful of draconian sentences for illegal work (15 month jails for pleading guilty and 22 months for not guilty), the financial tourniquet cripples refugees’ survival strategies. However, we note that seeking physical security from persecution as well as economic opportunities in a country of asylum can hardly be regarded as incompatible objectives for poverty stricken refugees. What options do refugees have? How are they expected to survive?
This compound under a tree is one of several similar structures that house refugees in the Ping Che rural area. There are other shanty complexes scattered across the New Territory, particularly near Nai Wai, Kam Tin and in the Pat Heung hills. These dirty and dangerous shacks are unfit for living. Their use as permanent PAID homes for refugees must be exposed as a matter of social justice. What honour is there in offering protection with one hand, while strangling refugees with the other?
Vision First strongly objects to ISS’ decision to limit rent to 1200 HK$, without paying deposits for poverty stricken refugees who are not allowed to work. Critics will argue that residents on CSSA receive similar amounts. However, CSSA recipients enjoy supplement payments and may work any time for a minimum wage of 32 HK$/hour, without fearing imprisonment for a maximum of 36 months and a 50,000 HK$ fine. Refugees - cursed by the Hong Kong reality – are damned if they work and damned if they don’t! Vision First believes this situation is an affront to Hong Kong citizens who have put their fate in the government to do what is right and dignified in refugee policies. Let us not forsake our humanity.