On 4 March 2015 Vision First received five phone calls from several fire stations in the New Territory, referring to a list of refugee slums submitted for inspection. Fire Service Department (FSD) officers asked, “We are going to visit some of the slums shown on your website. May we ask the exact location? Could you pinpoint it on a Google map for reference?”
With a sense of urgency, the officers informed that they could not wait for a joint inspection because they were already on the way to Ping Che where the first 6 compounds on our list are located. They spoke about ‘deploying contingency plans’ and being tasks to conduct immediate investigations following various complaint letters and emails by Vision First.
Considering that we first communicated concerned about slum fire hazards in 2013, perhaps priorities changed in the wake of two events: 1) the death of a refugee in a blaze on 29 January 2015; and 2) the explosion of gas cylinders in a slum fire on 25 February 2015. These are incidents that supposedly would grab the attention of professionals tasks to protect people and property from fires.
Since time was of the essence, we suggested contacting the Refugee Union which has coordinators in every district and most rural villages, including Ping Che, from where the struggle against dangerous housing supported and subvented by ISS-HK started in May 2013. The FSD appreciated the suggestion and met a Refugee Union representative to inspect several slums yesterday.
For some utterly bizarre reason the Fire Service Department contacted an NGO (Vision First) and relied on the assistance of a society (Refugee Union), to locate and inspect refugee slums where public funds have been paid for years to purported landlords by a contracted agent (ISS-HK) of a government department (Social Welfare Department).
Why didn’t FSD ask SWD to pinpoint the slums on a Google map?
Could it be that the SWD remains clueless about the location of its refugee slums? And that would not be for lack of our offers to accompany them. It is increasingly perplexing that numerous law enforcement agents, Lands Department officers and Fire Services officers have inspected (many) slums, while the one department responsible for refugee housing prefers to remain in the dark.