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Report on the special welfare meeting at Legco

Jul 23rd, 2013 | Advocacy | Comment

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

Asylum seekers ask Legco for access to work, education, healthcare

Jul 23rd, 2013 | Advocacy, Media | Comment

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.

ISS crushes our lives!

Jul 23rd, 2013 | Advocacy, Media | Comment

難民到立會示威 張超雄到場支持:「不要氣餒」

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.

 

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(獨媒特約報導)昨日立法會福利事務委員會舉行特別會議討論在港難民困境。關注難民團體Vision First約50名難民及義工會議前到立法會門外示威,要求政府正視本地難民困境,矛頭直指港府及香港國際社會服務社(ISS)。工黨立法會議員張超雄到場支持,批評政府支援不足,並鼓勵難民「不要氣餒」。

抗議矛頭直指港府及ISS

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。

工黨議員張超雄到場打氣。他在2005至06年探望過不少難民,有人住在旺角,也有人住新界西,不少人的居住環境惡劣,食物及健康護理皆不足,兒童甚至不能上學。「港府簽署了不少聯合國公約,有責任提供基本服務予難民,令他們不致貧困。香港是先進城市,有能力更好地照顧難民」。他形容難民的困境難以接受,敦促「港府必須盡快作出改變」。他又鼓勵難民繼續爭取權益,不要因眼前困擾而氣餒。

此時天公不造美,下起滂沱大雨,集會唯有轉到另一示威區繼續進行。來自巴基斯坦的難民John對記者大吐苦水,他是基督徒,受到宗教迫害,故於2007年到港申請酷刑聲請,但至今仍未成功。現時他和另外三名難民住在油麻地。他批評港府及ISS支援不足,「我嘗試自己找居所,但我去找物業代理時,他們第一句便問我:有沒有身份證,第二句便問:你能不能支付按金?」由於他不能合法工作,ISS資助又不包括按金,他根本不能承租。他批評,港府像在迫他回國。

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(中間為John)

難民住豬欄 退休富豪奮身對抗不公義

Jul 22nd, 2013 | Immigration, Media, Welfare | Comment

inMedia reports on Vision First - 22Jul2013

援助難民老店 拒認召警趕難民

Jul 21st, 2013 | Immigration, Media, Welfare | Comment

inMedia interview with Cosmo Beason - 21Jul2013

Apple Daily exposes fake ISS addresses in the slums

Jul 21st, 2013 | Advocacy, Media | Comment

English translation of the Apple Daily article on refugee slums in Ping Che, dated 21 July 2013

Apple Daily on fake addresses

Apple Daily on ISS poor track record

Jul 21st, 2013 | Advocacy, Media | Comment

click above image to read story on the Apple Daily website

Cable TV investigates why refugee children are denied education

Jul 21st, 2013 | Advocacy, Media | Comment

read the original article in Chinese here

click above image to read article and view video on Cable TV website

Cable TV exposes ISS’ illegal contracts in the slums

Jul 20th, 2013 | Advocacy, Media | Comment

read the original article in Chinese here

Cable TV reports on refugee schooling problems

Jul 20th, 2013 | Media | Comment

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