Madam Lama is a hero to the Refugee Union. The courage and resilience of this diminutive lady are strong enough to win any struggle against International Social Service (“ISS-HK”) that deceived and attempted to crush her since she first received welfare in February 2011.
When refugees were received 1000$ in rent assistance, her ISS-HK case worker Helen Lee decide that Madam Lama and husband should receive just 700$ for rent and nothing for utility bills. Helen Lee singled out this couple for exceptionally harsh treatment.
During 2011, 2012 and 2013, Helen showed little consideration and no compassion towards this vulnerable Nepalese family. It is suspected that racist bigotry motivated systematic denial of services that ultimately pushed Madam Lama over the cliff of social injustice.
On 9 March 2014, Vision First blogged, “Homeless pregnant mother taken to hospital” and on 19 March we reported, “Pregnant refugee mother homeless again”. Flagrant neglect and egregious conduct by Helen ensured that a sick, pregnant mother and family were thrown into the street TWICE!
ISS-HK failed to provide financial assistance and assistance in-kind to meet this family’s basic needs. The Social Welfare Department (“SWD”) failed in its duties to oversee its rogue contractor. On 21 March 2014, Madam Lama applied for a High Court Writ of Summons against ISS-HK and SWD for failing in their duties.
Supported by 25 members of the Refugee Union, Madam Lama entered the High Court pushed on an office chair as she was too sick and weak to walk. The Honorable Mister Justice Peter Ng heard the application for an ex-parte mandatory injunction against ISS-HK and SWD.
The court was informed of ISS-HK welfare failure over three years and in particular of Helen Lee’s negligence that made a destitute family homeless twice in ten days despite medical certificates urging Madam Lama’s admission to hospital.
The legal instrument ISS-HK employed to evict refugee who occupied its offices, was turned against this agency. On the evidence, Justice Ng offered his sympathy and said, “I am very concerned the family is living on the street. I am prepared to make a mandatory order for them to live someplace else.”
Justice Ng heard that ISS-HK denied transport money, forcing Madam Lama to sell food rations to go flat-hunting without success for weeks. They were so hungry her 18 month-old son chewed on a shoe in an attempt to eat it. Madam Lama didn’t showered for days and had holes in her clothes and shoes.
Justice Ng made an injunction forcing the 1st Defendant (ISS-HK) and 2nd Defendant (SWD) to arrange immediate accommodation for the plaintiffs and to pay for such urgent accommodation whether by way of deposit, rent or otherwise in advance ahead of a return date to High Court next Friday.
The Honorable Mister Justice Peter Ng concluded by saying to barrister Robert Tibbo, who represented the plaintiffs pro bono, “Please explain to your clients that Court is very sympathetic to their situation.”
On 20 March 2014, Helen Lee increased Madam Lama’s rent allowance by 33% suspecting legal action was underway. Such practices raise suspicion about SWD’s control of a contractor that intervenes only after Vision First takes action to safeguard refugees’ rights and interests.
Hearing Helen’s desperate offer, Madam Lama said, “No, now no need! She made me suffer too much. Helen needs to pay for what she did. She is not pregnant. She is not jobless. She is not sick. Physically and mentally she tortured me so much. Helen must pay for this!” And David struck Goliath.
Madam Lama only became known to Vision First late February 2014 at the “Occupy SWD” protest camp. One wonders why fake NGOs and churches accepted the abuse ISS-HK inflicted on Madam Lama and family for three long years without taking action in her defense.
On 9 March we reported that “A homeless pregnant mother was taken to hospital” after sleeping several nights at the Occupy SWD camp with a dozen protesters. Following that blog the Social Welfare Department (“SWD”) swung into action and ISS-HK case worker Helen Lee asked Mrs. Lama, “Why did you complain to Vision First?”
Yesterday at 21:35 we received this text message from Mrs. Lama, “My landlord again lock the door. Just now we r back to home…..we go to see the doctor for baby n afternoon our case officer ask 1 agency to show us room … we see every room but only one too small ….so we reject…..i have so much pain….n baby also not feel well!”
On 10 March, Helen Lee secured a guesthouse for Mrs. Lama’s husband and 18 month-old Immanuel. When the mother was discharged she joined them there for one night. Then Helen Lee negotiated with their previous landlord to allow them back into their room for a few nights.
The ISS contract signed on 10 March states, “My monthly rent should not exceed Pending. I confirm my address to be at 306 Shanghai Street, Yau Ma Tei”. Helen Lee visited the room twice and is fully aware it is a temporary arrangement occasionally paid for by a friend, not by ISS-HK.
While conducting oversight of ISS-HK’s operations, SWD should not be fooled. Pending indicates ISS-HK does not pay rent assistance. Adding addresses evidently misleads SWD into believing that refugees are settled, when actually homeless. Further, one wonders why Immanuel is not included in the contract.
When forced to sign a deceptive contract, Mrs. Lama questioned Helen Lee, “For what you put the address in the contract? If you do not put the money, why you write the address?” ISS-HK appears not to provide a fair and frank account of the grim refugee housing to Hong Kong government.
The SWD should ensure that when ISS-HK does not pay rent assistance, this should be clearly stated and no address shown on contracts. In such cases, refugees are shifting abode nightly at the whim of friends and supporters, effectively enduring a state of semi-homelessness.
Mrs. Lama is sick and should be admitted to hospital for observation, according Vision First director Doctor Tsang. Last night at the protest camp, Mrs. Lama explained, “I cannot go to hospital. My family is homeless, we are suffering. I only live because of Immanuel, otherwise I would take poison!”
It is crystal clear that Helen Lee failed to comprehend this family’s plight. Mrs. Lama complained, “I am homeless because of ISS. Helen offered 4500$ but we cannot find anything to rent for that price. Helen give me too much problem. She never want to support us. We have to sell our food because she never give us money to take the bus. Helen is not pregnant, is not jobless, is not sick … she can go, but we cannot go (flat hunting)!”
Helen failed to assist an extremely vulnerable family that is again homeless. Mrs. Lama, holding her aching abdomen, lamented, “I was going to Queen Elizabeth Hospital this evening because too much pain, all day too much pain, but I cannot go. My son is too much hungry. He take the shoes and eating … We have no option. We are suffering too much. I am going to be mad. I don’t know what to do now. I think it is better to die.”
The SWD stated they rarely receive complaints. They are invited to the protest camp under the Head Office if they genuinely care for refugees. Mrs. Lama complained, “Maybe Helen thinks that refugees can sleep anywhere because we are helpless. We are human beings, she should not treat us like animals. My heart is in too much pain because of Helen. Too much stress because of her.”
Vision First stands shoulder to shoulder with suffering refugees. We will support Mrs. Lama until she receives the full assistance she is entitled to. This courageous pregnant mother warned, “Until Helen finds me a room, I will not leave the camp. I will not go to hospital, even if I have too much pain and the doctor know it. If anything happens to me Helen Lee is responsible. She will have to pay. She must be responsible.”
On 13 March 2014, the Court of Final Appeal found in favour of Mr. Ghulam Rbani (FACV 15/2013) on the issue of arbitrary or unlawful detention of asylum seekers under section 32(2A) of the Immigration Ordinance.
Mr. Rbani, described as a serial over-stayer, entered Hong Kong with different passports on four occasions between 1992 and 2000. He finally overstaying for 4 ½ years before he was arrested in April 2005. He was convicted and imprisoned for immigration offenses and lodged a Torture claim on 12 September 2005.
Mr. Philip Dykes SC, acting for Mr. Rbani, advanced several arguments for contending that the Director of Immigration could not justify the imprisonment as lawful. In brief, the defense submitted that the detention was unlawful in that it violated:
- Article 5(1) of the Bill of Rights, “No one shall be subject to arbitrary arrest or detention.”
- Article 28 of the Basic Law, “No Hong Kong resident shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful arrest, detention or imprisonment.”
- Article 41 of the Basic Law, “Persons in the HKSAR other than residents shall, in accordance with law, enjoy the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents.”
- Harial Singh principle: detention must only be for the purpose of deportation, and that it must only be for a reasonable period in the circumstances.
The Court found that given the vital importance of the right to personal freedom, there are certain implied limitations to any statutory power of administrative detention and authorities may not lawfully detain a person ‘pending removal’ for longer than a reasonable period.
It was stated that the liberty of persons can be interfered with only upon grounds that the court will uphold as lawful. Therefore, the power to detain must be exercised reasonably and in a manner which is not arbitrary, If it is not, the detention cannot be lawfully justified.
The judgment emphasized that a person made the subject of a removal order (such as asylum seekers and refugees are) may not be locked up arbitrarily while the decision whether to order removal is taken or while awaiting removal.
The court noted that, while files are being passed from one officer to another, detainees are being held in detention, deprived of their personal freedom, recognized both at common law and under Hong Kong constitutional guarantees as a fundamental right.
In this case Mr. Rbani was detained for a only 10 days more than what was justifiable in all the circumstances and awarded damages of 10,000$. It is an indictment to the entire asylum process that thousands of asylum seekers have been unlawfully detained for several months and in extreme cases for over a year.
Immigration detention must not be used as a intimidating method to force departure.
The Court of Final Appeal stated the compensation formula: asylum seekers held unlawfully at Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre are entitled to damages for false imprisonment amounting to 1000 HK$ a day.
The government has a clear policy to deny asylum seekers’ rights and interest under Hong Kong law including constitutional rights such as liberty and freedom of movement.
It is a clear policy of the Hong Kong government to deny asylum seekers these rights and force them to have such rights affirmed and recognized only through the courts after many years of litigation and expenses.
This is a clear policy of intentionally delaying justice for vulnerable and unwelcome asylum seekers in Asia’s World City.
The Hong Kong government once again finds itself on the wrong side of constitutional law and is now looking at extraordinary amount of compensation to so many asylum seekers who were stripped of their liberty and denied compensation for such gross human rights violations.
This Court of Final Appeal judgment protects human rights by ensuring that thousands of asylum seekers, who were unlawfully detained, will receive significant amounts of cash in compensation for unjust treatment.
At 11:26 on Sunday morning – when all NGO workers enjoyed a day off – Vision First emailed the Social Welfare Department an urgent appeal. A Nepali family with a 1.5 year old child spent several days sleeping in a tent at Occupy SWD after being evicted by their landlord. ISS-HK failed to pay their rent in February and the landlord kicked them into the street last week.
Misery never sleeps for abused refugees, not even for five-month pregnant mothers. Mrs. Lama tried to contact her ISS case worker Helen Lee who was too preoccupied with keeping to the schedule to appreciate the plight of a distraught mother. Helen refused to meet Mrs. Lama.
Mrs. Lama’s family rented a tiny flat for 3000$, but ISS-HK only paid 2400$ despite the old rent allowance being exactly that amount (1200 for each adult + 600 for a child). For no other reason but reprehensible discrimination, this family was deprived of sufficient rent assistance – despite being prohibited from working.
SWD and ISS-HK make pregnant woman homeless with her 1.5 year old son.
Further, ISS-HK Helen Lee made no effort to deal with a greedy landlord who charged the family several hundred dollars cash a month for utilities, without bothering to claim the allowance from ISS-HK. Mrs. Lama’s pleas for assistance fell predictably on indifferent deaf ears.
On Sunday morning Vision First emailed the SWD, “The Refugee Union is extremely concerned about this vulnerable family with a 5 month pregnant mother. These are not the kind of *hardship* protesters that are needed at this protest site.”
ISS-HK treats worst the soft-spoken, insecure and amenable Asian families who do not know their rights. That is the modus operandi of a bully who has no respect for human suffering. What happened to this family is totally unacceptable under any circumstance, but particularly so in the cold of winter.
These past days, Mrs. Lama went to see a doctor at Queen Elizabeth Hospital but was refused care. Despite her advanced pregnancy, hospital staff told her to first sort things out with ISS-HK. However, Mrs. Lama lamented, “The ISS medical team was very rude to me and they refused to understand my problem or offer a solution. I was in much pain”
SWD and ISS-HK deny pregnant mother access to medical assistance.
At 22:30 on Sunday evening, Mrs. Lama felt ill and an ambulance was called to “Occupy SWD” to take her to hospital. It is shameful that nobody takes the plight of refugees seriously at SWD and ISS-HK. It is an affront to society that a pregnant mother should be homeless, living in a tent and collapsing outside.
It’s a travesty of justice that despite service enhancements and reviews, the weakest refugees are falling ill in the street without anyone taking responsibility. There is a complete service failure at ISS-HK and a troubling lack of communication between ISS-HK and SWD, the latter in a state of denial.
ISS-HK does not tell SWD about the wicked things it does to refugees and SWD does not exercise sufficient or any due diligence or oversight over what ISS-HK does. Only after Vision First intervenes to complain does SWD wake up and do something about the dangerous situations we report.
“God bless you my friend and your baby! I always see and meet you there at the protest. I wish all gonna be OK.” – SMS from another refugee mother.
Such inhumane, cruel treatment emboldens the Refugee Union to fight harder.