Vision First has one question for the Social Welfare Department as it invites tenders for the “Provision of Assistance for Non-refoulement Claimants” for almost 7000 refugees caught between a rock and a hard place, namely, a 1500$ rent ceiling and a prohibition to working.
Question: Is it acceptable for contractors to settle service users in illegal structures (unauthorized works generally investigated and purged by the Lands Department), and if so will SWD provide an indemnification letter to the contractors?
If the answer is NO, then SWD should explain why the present contractor systematically and over many years housed vulnerable refugees, including infants and children in at least 69 slums exposed by Vision First in 2013 and 2014.
If the answer is YES, then SWD should explain on which basis and by what means it will indemnify contractors from responsibility and damage claims for subjecting refugees to punitive, dehumanizing and exploitative living conditions in the 69 refugee slums we exposed.
For the avoidance of any doubt, present and future contractors should be aware that several government departments and agencies (SWD excluded) are keenly interested in the practice and consequence of establishing refugee slums since 2006 and paying rent therein with funds from the public purse.
Slum No. 69 in Hung Shui Kiu is a maze of illegal structures, unauthorized electrical, water and sewerage works that housed dozens of refugees for several years. It is estimated that the present SWD contractor pays the purported landlord in excess of 400,000 HKD yearly in rent and utilities, despite the apparent lack of rentable premises.
Refugees pay more than 2000$ for spaces defined haphazardly in tight corners, some roughly bordered by plywood boards erected around mattresses. The cooking and washing facilities are rudimentary at best, and certainly less than sanitary, with faulty plumbing and defective drains. Rodents, cockroaches and a variety of insects plague the compound and make tenants sick.
As in the other slums, it is noteworthy that every refugee holds a signed Agreement issued by ISS-HK. Further, refugees confirm that generally ISS-HK case workers inspected and approved these rooms under the existing SWD contract for “Provision of Assistance for Non-refoulement Claimants”.
One could be mistaken to believe that the Social Welfare Department tacitly approved the 69 refugee slums, despite its clear and binding duty to monitor the performance of its chosen contractor, in particular with regard to the condition of accommodation, including legality, safety and hygiene.
It appears that not everything is sound in the current welfare provision to refugee. Why?