Refugees are exploited in the underground economy

Post Date: Jul 18th, 2014 | Categories: Advocacy | COMMENT

We live in a time of rapid change and social unrest that make most citizens worry anxiously about their future. In such uncertain and distressing social conditions, aggravated by global economic woes and austerity, more people turn their back on social issues considered exclusively a government challenge. Rather than thinking deeply about the broader community, most people condone, ignore or accept as inevitable injustices that don’t affect them directly.

Consequently, few citizens care to be bothered by the problems of marginalized social groups, even when suffering is caused by government policies that are neither unavoidable, or the only reasonable solution, and should thus be reviewed. A case in point are asylum policies that force 6000 refugees to earn a living in the underground economy. It is undeniable that while a few thrives with entrepreneurial flair, most are gravely exploited. Everyone must dodge arrest and incarceration.

Some talented individuals overcome policy and social hurdles with shrewd economic sense and reach financial security through capitalistic survival of the fittest, in this finely integrating into the way of life of Hong Kong. Others scrape a hand-to-mouth living that fails to meet theirs and their families’ most basic needs.

While this reality may offer Hong Kong with the flexibility in the labour market it needs, concerns cannot but be raised over the severe exploitation that at times fails to pay fair wages for fair work while exposing refugees to long working hours, hazards and injury.

For example, the following cases occurred last week:

Case one: A refugee occasionally help with deliveries for 300$ a day. He sent this text message, “Today another time my luck save me. Today I had to go pick up some furniture…. I sent my another friend … instead of me. But police catch him….”

Case two: Unable to prepay 4000$ of kindergarten fees before government funding is paid, a refugee father worked in an underground factory. This establishment provides services presumably at a fraction of the cost of licensed companies. The pay is 300$ for a 13 hour non-stop shift in dangerous conditions. The refugee stopped going after some others were arrested.

Case three: A refugee is exploited by an avaricious slum lord who demands 2000$ above the government allowance for rent and utilities. Compelled to find cash, he occasionally find work in remote compounds where industrial batteries are hand cut. Caustic splashes burned holes in his legs and arms. He works dawn-till-dusk for 400$, while residents are paid considerably more.

Case four: A fragile woman could no longer work when she became six-month pregnant. As a consequence, she was unable to pay her rent and lost her room deposit to a cheating flatmate. Her vulnerability necessarily increased. While she was sleeping in a park, she was accosted by a man posing as a Good Samaritan who offered accommodation, but instead stabbed her. She screamed and got away only after a fright.