Following eight turbulent months of street activism the first organization to unite asylum seekers and refugees in Hong Kong regroups for the next phase of development. Born from a widespread dissatisfaction with failed welfare services, the Refugee Union is steadily evolving into a society that promotes the human and refugee rights of its members.
By-monthly meetings continued regularly since the Union was conceptualized on 27 January 2014, which in itself is a testament to its leadership’s organizational skills, their wish to participate (particularly considering that members are not provided with transport fees), often accompanied by children and friends who wish to join this promising society. Forty-five old and new members signed the attendance record at Monday’s gathering.
These meetings are foremost an opportunity for members to evaluate current strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT analysis) and refine objectives in a harsh environment in which threats are numerous and opportunities almost non-existent. Such is life for refugees whose resilience, tenacity and self-reliance is challenged to the highest degree in our unwelcoming city. Most claimants are cognizant of the fact that significant progress requires personal commitment and self-sacrifice.
Many hands shot up when questions were asked about new problems. For example, it appears there is great uncertainty about the food supplied by the ISS-HK appointed grocery shops. Refugees reported hearing from staff at the shops that supply contracts ended in September and the itemized client lists for October had not been distributed. This situation is highly unusual as the shops will not stock the necessary supplies for next week after their contractual obligations have ended.
While the following information cannot be verified, ISS-HK staff informed some refugees that they had not submitted the food lists to the shops because the SWD had not renewed the contract yet. It may be surmised that if the shop contracts ended, there should be calls for tenders on the ISS-HK website (the usual practice since 2009), but there are no such documents. Further, shop owners complained they would not continue supplying at the old tender prices because groceries appreciated significantly in the past year.
The Refugee Union takes credit for exposing failures in the ISS-HK food distribution, with the South China Morning Post research supporting claims that the food supplied by the contracted shops costs between 13 and 30 per cent less than the HK$ 1,060 worth of food that ISS-HK was contracted to provide. The 19 February 2014 article reported that, “last week, a refugee union claimed only HK$600 to HK$700-worth of food was distributed, rather than the HK$1,060-worth required for each adult per month. The union sought a price list, which both ISS-HK and the Social Welfare Department declined to provide, saying it was a confidential tender document.”
Other problems refugees face related to rent and deposit payments approved discriminately by ISS-HK case workers. The Refugee Union lodge complaints with the SWD against case workers denying the full 1500$ rent assistance (to refugees who pay that much or more), or refusing to pay security deposits with no better excuses than flat rejections. In this respect, several participants reported that less confrontational refugees seem are less likely to receive full assistance than those who stand up for their rights.
Further, looming ahead are issues relating to the blanket rejection of USM cases by the Immigration Department and its Appeal Board. As far as the community knows, the acceptance rate hasn’t improved since the Unified Screening Mechanism (USM) was launched last March. On the plus side, this year refugees appreciated that appeals must be lodged even if the process is believed to be hopeless.
The trend is such that the last reasonable chance is to apply for a judicial review at the High Court (Form 86) with assistance from Legal Aid. In the long run, this might have serious implications for the higher courts that could soon be overwhelmed by hundreds, if not thousands of plaintiffs demanding justice where protection was unreasonably denied. Due to poor implementation, the Hong Kong asylum arena remains chaotic.