Vision First exposed ‘The Slum On Two Storeys’ in August 2013 when we reported that an unscrupulous owner constructed a dangerous dormitory on two levels, where ISS-HK colluded to settle over 25 refugees. Evidence revealed that the Lands Department once authorized the construction of three pigsty and two chicken sheds on the lot, though licenses had been revoked.
A year and a half later only the names of some of the refugee tenants had changed as new-arrivals moved in. No government department seemed interested to address the problem of illegal structures that, in our view, constituted veritable ‘death traps’ owing to overcrowding, substandard construction, illegal electrical wiring, gas cooking in confined spaces and alarmingly a lack of firefighting equipment.
In a 28 January 2015 meeting, we brought to the attention of Lands Department officers that the slums generally constituted a fire hazard and it was only a matter of time before one would go up in flame, possibly with loss of human life. We remarked that the Fire Services Department had seen the photos of the slums and were keen to take coordinate action with SWD and Lands.
One day later we received an SMS from a Bangladeshi member, “Kam Sheung Road have refugee house burning. One man die just before”. The Refugee Union swung into action and photos spread on social media a few minutes later. A violent fire was raged out of control. Firemen from 18 trucks with two breathing apparatus team took 40 minutes to douse the inferno. Too late for Lucky!
He was known by the nickname “Lucky”, which didn’t protect him as he burnt to death in a tin shed. Lucky often complained about faulty electrical wire that gave shocks. It is reported that his ISS case worker visited his shack and looked into the problem a few days earlier. A friend explained that refugees often wire the slums with two-face system that can short-circuit and catch fire.
Vision First was familiar with Lucky’s hut and the others lining the path to the ‘Slum on Two Levels’. There was nothing legal there. Every part and material raised alarming concerns. In the slums there is imminent danger of collapse, flooding, gas explosion, lightning strikes and – most frightening – FIRE! Had it been nighttime with most residents at home sleeping, the death toll would have been high.
We can only hope that Lucky’s tragic death will not have been in vein. It was disappointing to witness the sudden media frenzy drawn by the excitement of a raging fire and a gruesome death. Why were the refugee slums not newsworthy yesterday? Why did it take a death to draw media and public interest? Lucky’s death was entirely avoidable if the authorities had taken action in August 2013.