Vision First received numerous complaints against Safwan Provision Store, appointed by ISS-HK to provide food rations, paid by the government purse, to approximately 1000 refugees who live in the Yuen Long area.
It is unclear why more complaints are raised against Safwan than the other six ISS-HK stores. Perhaps this relates to the Pakistani proprietors refusing to address complaints and instead exasperating refugees with taunts like, “Go and complain to the Refugee Union, see if I care!”
Provided with two rotten apples for a ten day period, a refugee lady protested, “You see, it is black. How do I eat this?” The shopkeeper taunted her, “OK, this apple, you give it to the Refugee Union and complain! What will the Refugee Union do to me?”
The rations supplied are of such substandard quality that reportedly half of the refugees take cash instead. The transaction is arranged by first signing collection notices at the designated shop at Chun Chu House, and later getting cash at another Safwan store in the Hope Yick Commercial Center, also in Yuen Long.
This arrangement defrauds Hong Kong Government by discounting 10-day food rations, originally valued at 400$, to approximately 160$ depending on items selected. This results in 1200$ monthly food rations being worth 480$ in the hands of refugees, with a 720$ mysterious loss to tax-payers.
Only a voucher system guarantees the eradication of fraud in the food distribution system.
Sources familiar with ISS-HK food distribution informed Vision First that Safwan doesn’t provide refugees with traditional basmati rice (13$/Kg), but instead mixes Pakistani ‘PK365’ rice (9$/Kg) with a cheap Vietnamese variety (3$/Kg). This is done when repackaging rice into 5Kg bags for ISS-HK clients.
A refugee mother complained, “This is old rice. It smells like cooking gas [methane]. After cooking it smells very bad and taste bad. The colour is very white, as it is bleached again. The package says Basmati Rice, but it is regular rice. We know the difference because we eat rice since we are babies.”
The quality of the bread is equally dreadful and packages are often distributed 2 days before expiry dates for a 10 to 12 day period. Perhaps refugees are expected to gorge themselves and then starve until the next collection. On 15 May 2014, Safwan gave a refuge mother a bag of bread that had been chewed through by a rat.
The majority of refugees cannot read English and are unable to verify what items are delivered by the shop. This explains complaints whereby refugees might collect “Fish” instead of “Halal Chicken”, because collection notices are typed in English and claimants are too shy to ask for help.
The best many refugees can do is count the items on the collection notices and ensure they correspond numerically to the items collected. Any discrepancy in foodstuff is ascribed to case workers having mixed up the order and unscrupulous shopkeepers can swap items with impunity.
With regard to the unlicensed Safa Milk, refugees noticed that other legitimate brands are kept on the shelves in view of CCTV cameras, while cartons of Safa milk are placed into the grocery bags at the time of collection. The construction of the shelving unit is such that video cameras, viewed by ISS-HK through web connections, are unable to record the entire transaction.
It is hard to understand why ISS-HK is unwilling or unable to monitor dodgy practice at Safwan.