Vision First Questions:
1. Some lawyers confirm that most of their clients do not receive sufficient funds, or financial assistance in kind, or food coupons to meet their basic needs, as rents have increased and inflation has outstripped the amounts provided by SWD. This leaves refugees with no choice but to beg and frequently resort to working illegally. Is it not a fact that the increase in rents has outstripped the rental assistance provided to claimants?
2. Do you agree that thousands of asylum seekers lived for years, and hundreds continue to live, in abandoned chicken and pig farms sanctioned by the government as these were/are the only locations affordable based on government rent assistance?
3. Do you agree that such pig and chicken farms were/are not zoned for residential living? Is the government investigating why this happened and who is responsible for distributing public money to pay for illegal structures?
4. Will anyone be prosecuted for allowing dozens of refugee slums to develop and operate on funds paid from the public purse between 2006 and 2015?
Security Bureau (vague) reply:
Service users should be living in appropriate living environment. (NB: Supposedly not slums)
ISS-HK may require landlords to file supportive documents to indicate the premises’ condition.
For those assessed to be below standard, or where any illegal structures have been identified, ISS-HK would inform the service users concerned and advise them to move to another accommodation as soon as possible for the sake of their safety.
For those premises which warning letters have been issued by the Lands Department as illegal structures, ISS-HK will stop the rental payment to the landlords in the coming month.
It is regrettably noted that the Security Bureau failed to comment on the ‘cozy relationship’ enjoyed by slum landlords who for years profitably settled refugees in makeshift huts and converted animal sheds erected on agricultural land manifestly not zoned for residential use, while ignoring the risks and dangers inherent in such questionable arrangements. Will anybody take the blame?
Fact 1 – an average of 28 new claims are lodged at border crossings monthly.
Fact 2 – an average of 380 new claims are lodged with Immigration monthly.
Fact 3 – Immigration Press Releases in 2015 overwhelmingly single out Indian refugees.
We are often told in official documents that it is an indication of asylum abuse to apply for protection several months after a refugee arrives in Hong Kong. Now we are similarly made to understand that applying for protection as soon as a claimant arrives in Hong Kong and avails himself of a lawyer is also a possible indication of abuse.
Vision First queries, may the ImmD provide guidelines about what they consider a reasonable time to seek asylum?
Further, Immigration is upset as there are legal representatives assisting refugee upon arrival at Hong Kong border points. So the authorities have in effect lost control over the entry of refugees from the very start. This is a problem for Immigration as in the past refugees could be turned away without anyone knowing and /or they would be locked up in CIC detention without any legal knowledge or assistance. Immigration would then keep them locked up and put pressure on them and in effect fetter their USM claims as lawyers are hampered when asylum seekers are locked up.
Further, Immigration may also be upset at the raising of asylum claims from the start indicates a stronger asylum claim, and the increase in new claims suggests that these claims may not be easily rejected. So in effect Immigration has lost the oppressive controls they utilise over new arrivals. This also threatens a new flood of refugees raising their USM clams on arrival, rather than when arrested.
It is ironic as Immigration has always acted in a manner that has been oppressive and prejudicial to asylum seekers and now this opportunity to abuse is being dramatically removed from them. No one said Immigration would be happy if refugees raised their asylum claims upon arrival. All that the Immigration Appeal Board says is that these claimants are not real refugees as they failed to raise their USM claims at the earliest time. Immigration only used this excuse to rejects USM claims and to call such refugees “illegal immigrants and economic migrants” seeking to take jobs away from local people. Now it cannot be said that easily any more.
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.