The LegCo “Panel on Housing” of 2 November 1998 states “Any illegal structures or extensions built after 1 June 1982 on … leased agricultural land without the approval from the Lands Department, are classified as squatters and are subject to demolition as and when they are discovered. Structures registered in the 1982 Squatter Control Survey are tolerated until such time when their removal is required for public development, environmental improvement or safety reasons.”
On 11 February 2015, the Lands Department affixed this notice at the Slum on Two Storey, the site of the fatal fire. The registered owner is notified that three metal and wood structures of specific measurements had been tolerated. However such structures had been previously demolished and replaced with the current unauthorized structures, thus cancelling the squatter license. In other words, the entire compound is found to be illegal and must be returned to agricultural use.
A quintessential expression captures the moment – closing the stable doors after the horses have bolted. Since May 2013 Vision First has advocated tirelessly for safe and proper housing for slum refugees by reporting our findings to departments including the land authority. Two weeks after the death of a refugee squatter, lease enforcement commenced against an unscrupulous slum lord.
It appears that not all government departments are reading from the same page. On the one hand Lands Department publicly stated that several refugee slums are illegal and posted notices at certain location. On the other, the Social Welfare Department did not concede that rules and regulations were broken by settling refugees in slums since 2006. Truth would go a long way in resolving the issue.
Meanwhile the Hong Kong Police is apparently attempting to maintain order in a familiar way, namely gagging refugees from voicing grievances. Whether coordinated or the result of individual opinion, a Refugee Union leader affirms he was visited by four police officers in his tin shed at night and warned that he should not join an upcoming protest. Another refugee in a different slum was told by a policeman, “Why you complain? You have a good room”. The officers were met with silence as pajamas were not the right attire for a debate.
At this juncture, the government should be coordinating and implementing a rational clearance of dangerous slums. Priority should be given to locations with high fire hazard from which refugees ought to be urgently moved to guesthouses while permanent solutions are identified. It is meaningless for caseworkers to instruct refugees to immediately secure proper accommodation for 1500$ a month!
Refugees were victimized when they were first settled in slums years ago. Today they are victimizes again by sudden evictions. It is a no-brainer that 1500$ legal rooms do not exist and refugees have no resources to pay for rent surplus, since they are not allowed to work. Something is amiss in the government’s strategy to resolving this housing crisis in which everyone is responsible, and not only the refugees as pro-government propaganda states.
The above mentioned paper concludes, “It is the Government’s policy that no one would be rendered homeless as a result of the clearance programmes. When clearance is to be conducted in a squatter area, all persons … will be rehoused to public rental housing or interim housing units according to their eligibility.” Current practices again shamefully belittle the dignity and humanity of refugees.