Since 2010 Vision First visited regularly “The Slum in the Farmhouse”. Remember the purported landlady who boiled water on a fire for refugees to shower? On these visits we collected information and evidence from residents who at one point numbered 22 refugees, the overwhelming majority of whom were actively managed by ISS-HK through monthly “Agreements for provision of service” (including public rent paid with tax-dollars and home visits to approve allegedly unauthorized structures).
For two years Vision First steadfastly contended that it is wrong and immoral to subject refugees to degrading and dehumanizing living conditions. Such a contemptible practice is particularly scandalous since refugees are prohibited from working and thus cannot earn their way to better accommodation.
Vision First is pleased to report that finally something is changing!
ISS-HK seems to be reacting to the exposure of refugee slums. The Social Welfare Department contractor no longer approves certain slums as residence for refugees and advises tenants to look elsewhere for proper accommodation. Why? Is it an acknowledgement that something was improper?
While we can only speculate on ISS-HK’s decisions, we ponder why certain slums are going out of business. Do some slum lords feel pangs of guilt for exploiting refugees? Very unlikely. Is surgical enforcement action being taken by government departments to purge illegal structures only in a limited number of slums? Possibly. If information on these dreadful compounds is not readily available to these departments Vision First will ensure it will be.
Facts lead us to believe that cracks are appearing in the way refugees are segregated into slums. SWD helps us to form this opinion. In November 2014, the SWD announced a new tender dividing Hong Kong into three regions, introducing competition and launching food coupons to counter widespread irregularities in the food distribution channel.
Crucially, SWD replied to Vision First‘s questions on the tender by stressing that refugees need to be housed in legal structures. The closure of some slums (curiously not the worst structures) might indicate that Hong Kong government is no longer willing to tolerate irregularities in refugee welfare management that raised public queries and complaints.
A few months ago, refugees who lived in Slum No. 12, some for up to five years, started to report that their case workers at ISS-HK were unwilling to extend tenancy agreements in that compound. Tenants curiously admitted that “Mammy did not have the right documents” (as the slum lady was popularly called), confirming Vision First’s suspicions of irregularities.
Subsequently, expiring tenancy agreements at the Slum in the Farmhouse were not renewed and homeless refugees were not permitted to settle there. The number of ISS-HK clients in the compound steadily dwindled from almost twenty at the beginning of the year to just three in November 2014, evidence that the tide had turned.
This policy shift raises troubling questions. What will ISS-HK do with the refugees whose rooms are now been deemed improper? Does ISS-HK expect that these clients will relocated to other ‘acceptable’ slums? Isn’t this just shifting and confining vulnerable people from one dump to another?
When the last three leases will expire, the Slum in the Farmhouse will cease to exist and that is certainly a reason to celebrate. However, it seems that the plug was pulled because of reasons other than dangerous living conditions which might signify that SWD continues to support refugee slums.
VF’s original report on the Slum in the Farmhouse (4 Sep 2013)