On 27 July 2015, Vision First wrote to the Security Bureau to request wavers of school fees for refugee children. The problem Vision First identified is that school fees are generally met by the government for those families of refugee background that pass the government means test (and of course all refugee families do as they are prevented from lawfully engage in income-generating activities). However, the subsidies are paid several months after these families are required by schools to pay fees and other expenses. Payment requests are reported to sometimes include threats to expel students.
The Security Bureau implicitly acknowledges the problem in its reply and from next year payments of financial assistance will be disbursed to refugee families no later than October for primary and secondary schools, and as early as September for kindergartens. In this respect, parents are urged to complete applications promptly and follow up with SFAA directly.
This arrangement is not the more practical and efficient waver system offered by the Hospital Authorities for medical fees. However it is certainly better than funds sometimes reaching refugees in January or March of the following year, leaving cash-strapped refugees with the problem of raising money to pay for the compulsory education of their children. It is advisable for ISS-HK and other NGOs to release SFAA funds to refugee parents without delay to minimize financial hardship and possible embarrassing situations.
NGOs and good hearted Hong Kong citizens would no longer need to advance money better spent on other purposes if government financial assistance for students were settled directly with the school at the time of enrollment. More advocacy is required on the part of civil society groups concerned with the rights of refugee children.