The slum in the three sheds

Post Date: Jun 17th, 2014 | Categories: Advocacy | COMMENT

Most can appreciate that the housing policy for refugees is hardly fair or reasonable. Refugees find it extremely hard to secure accommodation for 1500$ a month, the current rent allowance. Banned from working, 6000 men and women can be said to be forced into the same state of destitution that this policy should prevent – a state that ordinary citizens cannot possibly grasp without visiting the squalor in which refugees live.

Anyone can appreciate that refugees are provided with rent assistance that is considerably below market prices in the cheapest of tenantable buildings. This compels the majority of claimants into a desperate situation in which they either beg for assistance, or work illegally to survive.

At the fringes of society are the most indigent refugees who receive no support from charitable organizations or faith groups. They are condemned to a state of hopeless illegality by policies that deny sufficient assistant, most likely with the aim of deporting those who are arrested working while fostering assumptions that refugees come to Hong Kong to work.

No right-minded person would find this arrangement anything but cruel and inhumane.

Vision First takes the view that a fair asylum policy must deal efficiently with claims (that shouldn’t be dragged on for 5 to 10 years), while offering sufficient support that removes the need to beg or work. We warned that increasing the rent assistance – without paying basic, legal rents in full – would not solve the slum crisis, but lead to inflation in the slums, as unscrupulous landlords reaped greater profit.

That is exactly what happened since early this year. Four months after the enhanced welfare package for refugees was introduced, rent has increased in all the slums from the previous 1200$, or more, to the current 1500$, or more, as evidenced by numerous tenancy agreements signed under duress by refugees.

One year after the refugee slums were exposed, it appears that authorities have no interest in resolving this shameful situation. While two of the worst slums exposed by Vision First were closed down, the illegal rental business is as prosperous as ever in the other 63 locations.

Interestingly, it is worth noting that none of these dangerous, unhygienic slums hosts Hong Kong citizens on welfare assistance. To the contrary, a refugee who married a local wife recently moved with their baby son into a public housing flat in Tsing Yi, that he said is, “so big, brand new, with a great view … and only costs 700$ a month. Can you believe it?”

At the opposite end of the spectrum are the unwelcome asylum seekers misleadingly depicted as abusive economic migrants who actually responded to Hong Kong’s offer to grant asylum to persecuted people. They came to our city seeking safety and justice, but found instead discrimination and humiliation. The offer for protection here was less than sincere.

In the hundreds they find support in communities of countrymen who preceded them and they invariably end up in the slums that Hong Kong is doing a great job at turning a blind eye to. These men, women and children suffer daily in crushing poverty through no fault of their own, but having mistakenly believed they would be treated fairly until their asylum claims were determined.

Last week, invited by Refugee Union members, we came across a distant cluster of derelict sheds where ISS-HK settled about 15 refugees with government funds. There are no Hong Kong citizens living in these illegal sheds and it is hard to imagine there ever will be. It is hard to understand how this location was ever approved for human living.

Refugees are housed in metal sheds freezing in winter and baking hot in summer