Following the publication of his story on the Vision First website, Iqbal approached ISS-HK to discuss his housing problem with case worker Ms. Rhoda Despabiladeras. As she was absent, Ms. Sulma Samsula, the manager of the Prince Edward office, tried to solve the embarrassing problem.
Having explained his predicament, Iqbal asked Sulma, “Who gives me money to pay rent and to buy clothes and shoes? I am angry after seven years waiting. What do you want me to do? Where do you want me to live? Do you want me to walk without clothes … with a towel around my waste?
Iqbal explained, “Hong Kong government doesn’t allow me to work. If I do work, I go prison one or two years. ISS give little food … ISS give little rent … this is policy to make me go to prison … must be I do work to survive … then police arrest me …”
Sulma replied, “This is not my problem. You move to a better place to live.”
Iqbal clarified, “If there is room for 1500$, you find for me. I am your client. This is your job. Two times I found a cheap room, but ISS didn’t confirm and property agent gave to another people. Now cheapest room in Shamshuipo is 3000$ on ninth floor [of a walk-up building]. Some are 3500$ on lower floors. I have no money. What I do? How I can pay?”
Sulma was indifferent to reason, “This is your problem. You find room and ISS pay deposit.” Then, upset at having her photo taken, Sulma ordered, “You close your mobile phone! You cannot take photos here!”
Iqbal retorted, “Why I close my mobile? You use CCTV to record everything. Why me not allowed? This is my rule. Every time I follow your rules, but your rules [are] not good for me!”
Sulma rose in anger, grabbing the files, and called the police to remove an uncooperative refugee who refused to obey. Iqbal noted that previously when he had called the police, they refused to respond upon hearing it was at an ISS-HK office, again. However, when ISS-HK called, they came running!
Iqbal complained to the policemen, “If I do work, maybe you arrest me. This is the ISS fault. ISS give me trouble. ISS don’t give me money, don’t give me enough food, rent or clothes. If you arrest me the charge must be for ISS, not for me. I work because ISS don’t help me enough!”
The undesirable mismatch in negotiating powers between ISS-HK and refugees must be addressed as a matter of fairness. Shouldn’t Hong Kong offer a level playing field for all human beings who live here?
Shouldn’t the most vulnerable people also be treated with respect, and not like outcasts?
The solution might rest with the Refugee Union. Hong Kong Government should note that the strengthening of the Union relates directly to the incompetence of and abuse by ISS-HK case workers.
Taking stock of another lousy experienced, Iqbal expressed his hope for the future at the protest camp in Central, “For a long time I am thinking who can help me? God now give me the Refugee Union!”