Nobody was prepared to witness the devastation wrought by last night blaze on “The slum with the rusty gate” which Vision First brought to the attention of the authorities in October 2013 for reasons including a considerable fire hazard. In 2015 acts of God seem arranged to shut down refugee slums which (un)concerned government departments have been reluctant to dismantle.
Walking over the soaked remains of incinerated shacks which offered no sprinklers, fire extinguishers or fire hydrants (fire services laid hoses for trucks several hundred meters away), refugees observed it was a miracle nobody had died. “If the fire happened two hours later when everyone was asleep and the doors were locked, something worse would have happened for sure” noted Mumtaz, whose wife dashed out with their 2.5 month-old daughter, without a chance to grab her purse.
Burned remains, perforated tin sheets and bent metal beams reveal a conflagration that a crew of 165 firefighters with 35 fire engines could not contained till every shacks had been consumed by the raging fire. Eight fire trucks were dispatched to the nearest access road several hundred meters from Lot 2153 in Demarcation District 124, where ISS-HK currently sheltered 7 refugees, including children and a pregnant woman.
Unconfirmed reports indicate that the fire might have started in Francesca’s hut, constructed in a pigsty with metal sheets, plywood and no brick walls for sturdiness and protection. The hut was cluttered with a jumble salvaged from dumps, typical of refugee who scavenge to obtain everything they need. Francesca was known to cook on an electric stove, rumoured to have started the fire, which she brought home from a rubbish dump with no functionality assurance.
Ms. Mumtaz describes her escape, “I was cleaning the house and the door was open. I heard two loud bang noises. I looked and saw [Francesca’s] hut was burning very bad. We use cooking gas [large 27Kg. cylinders] and I was very scared of explosions. I was so afraid …. I grabbed the baby and ran away in my nightgown. I didn’t have time to take my other documents, just the her birth certificate.”
Yusna lives in a nearby refugee slum, “This is the third time I see fire like this. Every night I sleep with my daughter and I am afraid. Two years ago it happened in Hung Shui Kiu and ISS moved me to another slum. Then there was another fire and I moved here. But we are not safe like this. These houses burn very very fast. There is no way but run away.”
Arif of the Refugee Union commented, “It is the second fire in ISS slums in one month. They are lucky nobody died last night. God is telling them that the slums are dangerous and next time there will be dead people. These refugees lost everything: clothes, furniture, appliances, nothing left. It takes a family more than a year to collect everything they need from garbage. What can they do now?”
Mr. Mumtaz lived in this slum for 3.5 years with rent paid by ISS-HK from the government purse to a purported landlord. The address displayed on his ISS-HK Agreement on Provision of Assistance signed on 12 February 2015 is: Rm B3, No. 12 Tin Sum Sun Tsuen, Yuen Long.
There is a minor variation from the address shown in hisISS-HK Agreement signed on 13 September 2013. It is significant that the Lands Department officially identifies this location as Lot 2153 in Demarcation District 124 in Tin Sam San Tsuen. What justifies the considerable discrepancy?