Breaking the rent assistance barrier

Post Date: Jul 24th, 2014 | Categories: Advocacy | COMMENT

Hong Kong Government remains tight lipped about the renewal the Social Welfare Department (SWD) contract for welfare services to refugees due to expire in the coming weeks. The authorities generally prioritize outsourcing over the direct provision of services and it is said that the SWD does not have the logistic and human resource capacity to deploy its own operation.

The reality is such that no organization seems interested in competing for the SWD’s “Project of provision of Assistance-in-kind for Asylum-Seekers and Torture Claimants” as it is currently implemented, without it being broken up into smaller areas for example, which ensures that ISS-HK effectively remains the sole bidder at the time of renewal.

The Refugee Union reports that ISS-HK case workers will soon renew their contracts and current food suppliers are renovating shops ahead of qualifying inspections. In light of the above it is likely that the SWD will renew its service contract with ISS-HK which inexplicably remains a confidential document not to be shared with the public.

If the contract remains secret, it is impossible to know if amendments will be made to improve service delivery within the scope of the “Provision of Assistance for asylum seekers and torture claimants”, namely 1500$ for rent (half for children), 1200$ for food, 300$ for utilities and about 200$ for travelling costs. Although the key figures will not change, directions might be given to broaden the price grid (who can receive more) and the flexibility with which concessions are made (how much pressure is resisted).

To illustrate this point, it appears that members of the Refugee Union enjoy higher rent assistance than non-unionized refugees, which might be evidence of more effective pressure tactics. This has revealed that, for example, the 1500$ rent assistance is a guideline that can be persuasively overcome by repeated demands, which regrettably puts less assertive individuals at a disadvantage.

Rather than begging from charities, or risking jail by working illegally, refugees are advised to strive for longterm solution. In other words, instead of putting a hand out to collect money from churches, refugees should bring their ISS-HK case workers to task and demand that their basic needs be met in full, as constitutionally required by Hong Kong Government.

As long as refugees take the path of least resistance, that is finding money elsewhere to avoid confrontation with ISS-HK, the depth of their destitution and despair will not be grasp by the authorities. It is reported that the Refugee Union has developed effective strategies to secure levels of rent assistance that are unheard of in the broader refugee community. Since all refugees are banned from working, there is no reason why all refugees should not be enjoying better assistance.

The struggle to pay rent is undoubtedly the greatest source of anxiety for refugees living from hand to mouth. To have ISS-HK pay rent in full should be every individual’s objective. It is noteworthy that over the past months, possibly since the protest movement started in February, dozens of refugees have been settled in guesthouse rooms valued about 7500$ a month, or 6000$ more than the rent allowance.

Families are doing much better than before. The Refugee Union reports of families with two children renting apartments worth more than 6000$ and families with three children renting apartments worth 8000$ to 9000$. These are facts that the entire refugee community should consider carefully before working illegally to pay rent and thus risk being arrested and jailed for 15 months.

Evidence suggests that ISS-HK case workers have more discretion in granting assistance than generally perceived. Refugees who put forward a persuasive argument and show a determination to stand their ground on principle could celebrate with the single father and child who secured 3600$ in rent assistance instead of the 2250$ guidelines. Breaking the barriers takes effort, but is certainly worth it.

Refugee Union member families receive on average higher rent assistance than non-unionized refugees. It appears that protesters are getting better treatment by ISS-HK.