Reliably sources close to the ISS-HK food team, informed Vision First that in late 2013 Hong Kong Customs mounted a special operation to combat the cross-boundary smuggling of illicit cigarettes and distribution of cigarettes in the Yuen Long area.
Customs agents raided Safwan Provision Store, one of the ISS-HK appointed shops in Yuen Long, where it is reported that they seized 500,000 cigarettes smuggled into the city without payment of stamp duty.
Vision First was also told that a shop partners was convicted for the offense and jailed for 2.5 months, as well as fined 1.8 million dollars. It is rumored that only one of the two partners took the fall for the illegal merchandise stacked in the storage, while the other continued to run the business.
The refugee community reports that illicit cigarettes are currently available at the same location, and from there allegedly distributed to numerous ethnic grocery shops across the territory.
Vision First was further informed that ISS-HK, claiming that contraband cigarettes are not related to the food business, did not terminate Safwan’s contract for the distribution of food rations to approximately one thousands refugees. We hope this decision was well pondered and wisely made.
However, Vision First has been informed by the refugee community, that the same shop is distributing milk that many refugees believe to be smuggled. It is indeed plausible that a trading company that smuggles one product might also be smuggling others.
Thoughtful consideration should also be given to the 1.8 million dollar fine, a loss that owners would seek to recover most rapidly, perhaps even cutting corners in food related services.
Refugees informed Vision First that Safwan is distributing smuggled milk to ISS-HK clients.
SAFA Milk is produced by Gulf & Safa Dairies Company in Dubai, UAE. Informed sources told Vision First that this brand of milk is currently being provided to refugees, a brand of milk that we have researched is not licensed for consumption in the territory.
Information on the package obtained by Vision First is problematic: the 3.0g fat content is lower than the minimum 3.5g required by law; the address of the Hong Kong distributor is missing; the nutritional information does not comply with the Hong Kong “chat ga yat” or “seven plus one”.
Our research confirms that reconstitute SAFA milk from dairy cows in the desert country of the United Arab Emirates is not licensed for importation, distribution or consumption in Hong Kong. This situation raises a red flag not only about Safwan’s business methods, but also about the SWD and ISS-HK welfare practices.
Further and in addition, the refugee community is concerned that ISS-HK selected SAFA milk for the food rations distributed by all three ISS-HK branches to refugees requiring emergency provisions. Could this relate to the fact that it might be the cheapest milk as it bypasses regular import channels?
It is assumed that management of the ISS-HK food team is fully aware of irregular labels on SAFA milk packaging that would manifestly strike any professionally trained eye at first glance.
In this regard, we can only hope that no offence has been committed by ISS-HK and the refugee community is not again object of unscrupulous exploitation. However, the evidence seems to indicate otherwise.
Vision First urges relevant government departments, including Hong Kong Customs, to urgently investigate these allegations and ensure that the health and safety of refugees is not compromised by prohibited practices.