Shatin Magistracy court yesterday sentenced Pakistani Waqir to eighteen months imprisonment for breach of condition of stay. He was arrested while trying to earn some badly needed cash. The Immigration Ordinance (Section 38AA) condemns torture claimants to a life of failed welfare and unreliable begging. In reality, these two strategies come up disappointingly short.
The law is clear. Section 38AA states that “a person in respect of whom a removal order is in force, must not take any employment, whether paid or unpaid.” In other jurisdictions working without a visa would be an administrative offence, punished by a fine. In Hong Kong it is a serious crime punishable by three years in jail and a 50,000$ fine. Are such sentences just in a failed welfare environment?
How often must refugees work part-time for 300$ a day to meet their most basic needs?
Let’s put ourselves in their shoes to calculate a subsistence budget:
- My rent costs 600$ over 1200$ paid by ISS = 2 days’ work
- My electricity cost 300$ over 190$ paid by ISS = 1 day’s work
- My food is worth 500$ of 1060$ ISS valuation = 2 day’s work
- My groceries cost an extra 600$ a month = 2 days’ work
- ISS toiletries lack essentials like shaving creams, etc. = 1 day’s work
- ISS does not pay for my cooking gas, cost 300$ = 1 day’s work
- ISS doesn’t pay for phone and other costs of 300$ = 1 day’s work
- ISS does not pay for my travelling costs of 300$ = 1 days’ work
- ISS does not provide cloths that cost 300$ = 1 day’s work
- If I had children this would be a much longer list!
We submit that refugees in Hong Kong should be allowed to work 12 days a month just to make up for what a failed welfare system effectively denies them. Until basic financial and material needs are objectively and fairly met, it is a miscarriage of justice to jail refugees who have no viable survival option. Anyone who disagrees is warmly invited to spend a week in a refugee ghetto without cash.
Hong Kong government should consider issuing “Twelve day Working Passes” to single refugees (families would need more) until the assistance package offered by ISS is enhanced to genuinely reflect realistic cost and actual needs. Offering half of a subsistence budget is shameful to all involved!