“The civil war ended in 2009 but Tamil people are still dying. My second brother was kidnapped and disappeared in Sri Lanka. Yesterday I saw [Lucky’s] body in a morgue after he burned to death while in exile in Hong Kong. I hadn’t seen him since I fled to England 16 years ago,” said Sivaharan who arrived from London on Sunday as a British citizen to see his brother Lucky, who tragically died in a slum fire days ago.
The resemblance with his brother Lucky is striking. And yet their fates are irreversibly worlds apart: one is a holder of a United Kingdom Passport, the other of a Death Certificate courtesy of the Hong Kong Government that failed to protect Lucky and was unwilling to support him in a dignified manner. Such a regrettable treatment by the Hong Kong government sealed his tragic fate.
Sivaharan’s gentle smile hides a broken heart. He deleted Lucky’s photo from his mobile phone as they were too painful to see. Having to identify the charred remains of his beloved brother will only worsen his nightmares. “My mother hasn’t stopped crying,” he sighs, “She thought Lucky was safe here and cannot believe she has now lost two of three sons. How can Hong Kong treat victims of war like this?”
There is no point explaining to him that Hong Kong appears to have a well-established practice of delaying the assessment of asylum case, especially when allegedly strong, to avoid acknowledging them. That would be too crass a justification for anyone to understand, particularly the relative of a victim abandoned without adequate welfare assistance to years of living dangerously in a slum. The unfairness of such a process drags it deep and swiftly into the abyss of injustice.
Nothing can bring him back to life, but the government and rule of law that failed to protect Lucky might be redeemed by bringing to justice those who participated – directly and indirectly – in his horrific death. To this end, Lucky’s brother will bring civil proceedings against the landlord of the slum, International Social Services Hong Kong (ISS-HK) for approving and renting the tin hut, the Social Welfare Department (SWD) that failed to monitor its contracted agent ISS-HK, and the Lands Department that failed to purge known slums in a timely fashion.
A successful damage claim is virtually cast-iron as Lucky was a non-refoulement claimant whose safety and well-being was entrusted entirely with the intended Defendants being the Hong Kong Government and its agents. Regrettably the government and its agents settled Lucky in an illegal and inherently dangerous slum from September 2008 to January 2015, and thus the Defendants are all responsible for his tragic death.
“I visited other slums and I am shocked,” relates Sivaharan, “Electric wires dangle by the sink and shower. It is so scary. They look nicely decorated inside, but these are death traps. The huts are tin sheets offering little protection. I feel sorry for refugees who live in such misery for years. We don’t hear about it [HK treatment of refugees] in the UK. The lives of refugees should not be endangered by a government that ought to protect them.”
An order for specific discovery is likely to reveal the extent of negligence, malfeasance and nonfeasance of each Defendant. Let’s only hope that Lucky’s dead wasn’t in vain.