For the first time since 2008 refugees took their voices to the Legislative Council. A wave of blue VF tshirts flowed steadily towards the Government head office from 130 when we mobilized at Admiralty MTR. Everyone realized this was a fight that could potentially change the livelihood of 6000 refugees. Respect must be given to the dedicated Muslims who protested in the heat despite fasting dawn to dusk for Ramadan.
Our allies in the Labour Party improvised a shack – symbolizing the dreadful conditions hundreds endure – printed signs and invited the press to report on the protest action and the LegCo meeting. The signs proudly carried the logos of both the Labour Party and Vision First, a clear indication that politically we came of age this year. The messages were: “Refugees need basic assistance”, “Refugees can contribute to HK”, “Against the Culture of Rejection”, and “Assistance not oppression”. For the core team of activists, the favorite was undoubtedly, “ISS crushes our lives!!!”
As we triggered this special LegCo meeting, while other deputations had one speaker, Vision First had six representative to convey the refugee population’s deep dissatisfaction with ISS assistance. Wearing “Safeguarding Rights” tshirts (protesters grabbed 100 in minutes) our delegation entered the corridors of power and resisted engaging Miss Panares in an appropriate manner. She must be realizing this is the beginning of the end of the old ways. Change will come. Change will come swift and who knows who will be heading the new ISS in a few months. Perhaps this is a good time to update some CVs inside ISS!
The 90 minute meeting exposed the tip of the iceberg of ISS negligence and indifference towards refugees. For those in the field who know first-hand the suffering of this community, there was a sense that only the tip of one tentacle of an evil octopus was cut off. Hardly enough … hardly satisfying … considering that thousands lead a life that is an affront to Hong Kong citizens.
This is Vision First’s submission:
ISS stated that all the shortfalls in assistance to claimants are not ISS fault. Ms. Panares said that ISS hands are tied. ISS position is that the Security Bureau is to blame for withholding necessary funding to claimants. SWD is accountable for working alongside international social service in an oversight capacity. SWD and ISS kept the amount of assistance unchanged. With inflation this amounts to failing to meet claimants’ most basic necessities. SWD and ISS conduct is egregious and an affront. Security Bureau repeatedly stated in high court that claimants’ needs are fully met and there is no need to review this policy. Security Bureau is in breach of Usman Butt case and its fiduciary duties towards claimants. Security Bureau has full knowledge of what is happening, sky-rocketing inflation and ISS maintaining fixed and unchanged rental payments since 2010. The Government has allowed departments to continue welfare assistance under the false assumption that claimants’ basic material and financial needs are met by the current policy.
ACTUAL KNOWLEDGE: Government is fully aware claimants are suffering in the streets.
WILFUL BLINDNESS: Government decided to turn a blind eye to the problem.
In conclusion, Hong Kong government has substantially failed to fulfil its international and constitutional obligations towards claimants.
Many delegations raised interesting points, ranging from demanding change, to requesting the ISS monopoly by broken, from allowing claimants to work to pushing for investigations. Lawmaker Fernando Cheung planned to pass a motion to review the SWD-ISS service but, citing need for more research and time, the chairlady didn’t allow it to happen. She was a mouthpiece of the administration and nobody had any doubt whose commands she followed. You may watch the entire proceeding here: Special Meeting of the Panel on Welfare.
The mastermind is the Security Bureau and Vision First presented factual findings that can no longer be ignored. In our presentation we submitted that ISS does not take responsibility for its cruel policies and has blamed the Security Bureau for withholding the funding it needs to deliver adequate support to refugees. We accused the SWD of also being accountable in its oversight capacity as it appointed ISS in the first place. However, the Security Bureau is ultimately responsible for it is fully aware of refugee suffering and has turned a blind eye to SWD and ISS conduct that is a shameful disgrace for Hong Kong. Lawmaker Emily Law effectively screamed out, “OUR REPUTATION IS RUINED!”
Billy Woo defended the Security Bureau fortress as best he could. Faced with hard facts, graphic complaints and insightful advice, he couldn’t conjure up some magic to make this mountain of problems disappear. Pressed to comment, he made a diplomatic concession saying, “After the recent series of discussions in this council and also within the community, we find the present scheme in respect of support level, in respect of operation, has some room for improvement. We will carefully consider the views given today. We will consider the views one by one and see what we can do in the short-term as well as in the longer term. In fact the Social Welfare Department has already started some work.”
No decisions were made yesterday. But rest assured that change is coming and Vision First will ensure it is meaningful and lasting.
Vision First members were invited upto a LegCo meeting room to follow the proceedings on TV
Christy Choi writes for South China Morning Post on 23 July 2013
The plight of asylum seekers was laid out in the legislature yesterday amid fresh calls to grant them access to work, educational opportunities and more government help. Lawmakers heard how thousands of refugees languished in a city of affluence because current regulations prevented them from being self-sufficient. The Social Welfare Department said there was room to improve policies, but that the city also needed to prevent a “magnet” effect that would draw in more asylum seekers. Non-governmental organisations, lawyers, religious figures and refugees spoke up for their cause in front of the Legislative Council panel on welfare services.
“Malaysia, like Hong Kong, is not a party to the UN Refugee Convention, but they are preparing to allow asylum seekers to work and will train them as well,” said Professor Simon Young Ngai-man, former director of the Centre for Comparative and Public Law at the University of Hong Kong. China has ratified the convention but has not extended the ratification to the city. Julee Allen, manager of Christian Action’s humanitarian services department, said refugees lived “on a razor’s edge between destitution and not destitution”.
Young and Allen, along with representatives from the Hong Kong Refugee Advice Centre, Vision First, The Vine Church, human rights-focused law practice Barnes & Daly, and the Hong Kong Refugee Concern Network, appealed for the government to meet the basic needs of asylum seekers according to international standards. They cited best practices in other countries and slammed policies in Hong Kong as inadequate and illegal. The International Social Service (ISS), an NGO commissioned by the department that has been found wanting by civil society organisations, said its hands were tied by decisions made by the department and Security Bureau.
The ISS provides each asylum seeker with HK$1,200 in housing allowance, HK$1,000 worth of groceries a month and a small travel allowance. The department said the service was supposed to help asylum seekers find housing. Most refugees who testified at the meeting said they often found themselves unable to rent proper accommodation as the ISS did not provide a loan to pay initial rental deposits required by landlords. “We are sacrificing the mental health and well-being of 5,000 people in order for seven million of us to keep our wealth,” Pastor Tony Reed of The Vine Church said. “We must reject such a morally bankrupt policy.”
Outside the Legco building, Labour Party lawmaker Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung said to more than 100 asylum seekers: “As a signatory of the UN treaty [on human rights], we are obligated to provide the basic needs of those who face persecution and come to Hong Kong as a transition. Your situation is totally unacceptable and unbearable.” Cheung is tabling a motion to undertake a thorough review of the welfare system for asylum seekers.
Ameena Butt, seven, joins the protest outside Legco. Her father fled Pakistan after switching to Christianity in 2008.
We are the InMedia HK, in the past week, we follow the issue of refugees’ suffering in Hong Kong. And we post four articles for that (one article is still writing). We are happy that the public starts to care about the situation of refugees, as more media are reporting it, thanks for the advocacy work of the Vision First.
示威人士高舉不同標語抗議，像「援助，不要壓迫！！(Assistance Not Oppression!!)」、「難民可以貢獻香港！！(Refugees Can Contribute To Hong Kong!!)」、「反對拒絕文化！！(Against The Culture Of Rejection!!)」，也有矛頭直指ISS的「ISS摧毀我們的生活！！(ISS Crushes Our Lives!!)」、「ISS在進行社會控制！！(ISS Is Social Control!!)」，並架起象徵惡劣居住環境的寮屋模型。他們聲嘶力竭叫喊，希望引起關注，向政府及立法會議員施壓。
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