A refugee clashes with the absurd at ISS-HK

Post Date: May 16th, 2014 | Categories: Advocacy, Food, Housing, Refugee Community | COMMENT

In September 2013, Bassirou fled deadly trouble in Niger to seek sanctuary in Hong. His ISS-HK file was opened at the Mongkok office in October, when his struggle with case worker Lok Lam commenced.

For eight months he complained to his case worker that his room was unfit for living. Bassirou is 180cm tall while the space for his mattress is 160cm long, which forces him to fold his legs to sleep. The room has no window and ventilation is a problem as he suffers from asthma.

During recent thunderstorms, the ceiling of this top floor room was flowing with rain. The cracks in the roof are so significant that one afternoon all his belongings were soaked in water. Recently three of the other five ISS clients left these crumbling premises.

The six refugees shared a subdivided flat with one toilet bowl, no bathroom or kitchen. However, Bassirou sells his food rations, not for lack of a kitchen, but because Lok Lam arbitrarily refused to provide cooking gas since October 2013. In eight months his never received toiletries either.

Bassirou sells his food for bus money. He gets 300$ for a 1200$ monthly allocation. Who keeps 900$?

When asked how he eats, Bassirou explains, “I am a man. I am strong. I put my life in God’s hands. My food is to write. My eating is my memory for everything wrong that ISS did to me. One day they will pay for everything.”

On 14 May 2013, Bassirou blasted his case worker, “You have salary. You have money for your room. You have money to eat. Everything you have, so why you don’t want to help me? Why you don’t pay for my room? Why you don’t give me gas? Why you change my food? Why you give me rubbish food?”

Lok Lam stumbled, “ISS doesn’t have money to deliver food to all people. Everyone who takes the food sells it to the Pakistani who stand outside the shops.” [N.B. Refugee are forced to sell substandard, unwanted food to buy what they really require.]

Lok Lam repeatedly instructed Bassirou to buy cooking gas and present a receipt for refund. But Bassirou was furious, “Are you crazy? How do I pay for gas, if I don’t work? I told you that I have no money to buy anything! Where I get the money?”

When Lok Lam explained, “ISS doesn’t have money to pay you gas,” Bassirou interrupted, “You mean that ISS doesn’t have little money to buy gas, but has big money to pay lawyers to take Vision First to court? So … no money for refugees, but only money for lawyers?”

Bassirou lambasted is case worker, “Before I don’t like to give you problem, but now I am very angry because I know ISS is an organization for corruption. I have many proof. You can take me to court and I will talk to the judge.”

Lok Lam concluded in frustration, “If you want to go to court, you go to court. I don’t care!”

Instead of accepting Bassirou’s request to rent a modest 3000$ flat in Tokwawan, Lok Lam advised him to move into a guesthouse in Mirador Mansion instead. This temporary solution would cost ISS-HK, and therefore Hong Kong tax-payers, about 9000$ a month – three times more than the flat.

Lok Lam described the absurd policy, “ISS will not pay 3000$ for your room, as your rent assistance is 1500$. But if you go to the guesthouse, we can pay [300$] every night and you don’t worry about rent.”

Vision First is concerned about the irresponsible disbursement of public funds entrusted to ISS-HK. What rational supports the settling of refugees in guesthouses that cost three times more than basic flats?

In a separate case a family of three was placed for several months in a guesthouse at 18,000$ a month before they secured a 4500$ apartment. Such irrational squandering raises doubts about ISS-HK financial accountability and the Social Welfare Department’s oversight.

Does somebody besides guesthouse owners benefit from such extravagance?