Newly arrived refugees discover that Hong Kong is inhospitable and indifferent to suffering when released from Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre (“CIC”). Upon gaining their freedom, refugees might be thrilled to leave prison behind and might not yet appreciate the benefits they enjoyed, namely, three meals a day, clean bed and clothes, companionship and air-conditioning.
On 19 July 2014, Adnan was released from CIC onto the streets of Hong Kong with an Immigration recognizance form and a stark warning that he would be jailed for 15 months if arrested working. The prohibition was impressed upon him repeatedly and Adnan was surprised to sign a document confirming his undertaking as he hadn’t fled East Africa with dreams of lucrative employment.
Adnan spent 108 days in detention, for which incidentally he will claim over 70,000$ compensation, and had learned about the host city and what to expect since there wouldn’t be a welcoming party for him outside the prison gates. He didn’t yet realize how much his well-being in a developed city would depend on resilience and survival skills gained in a third-world country.
In CIC Adnan was visited by staff of ISS-HK who eventually acted as guarantor after learning that he didn’t know anyone in Hong Kong. Adnan appreciated the unexpected assistance and was told that ISS-HK would meet his basic needs as he was banned from working. On 22 July he visited ISS-HK at the Prince Edward branch and his hopes were dashed when he was told, “You have to wait two to three months and after we will call you as there are many people before you.”
Adnan had been homeless for three days and was hungry. In shock he replied, “What are you saying? How can I live because the Government doesn’t allow me to work and I signed that I will go to jail for 15 months if I work? If you cannot take my responsibility, why you take my guarantee?” He complained, “This is not what you promised me. How can ISS guarantee my release and not give me assistance? Because I am human I have to eat. How can I live?”
Either by design or inefficiency, the Social Welfare Department together with their contractor ISS-HK appear unwilling to remedy the lengthy delay refugees endure before welfare is first provided. Considering the government’s significant resources, it isn’t unlikely that this highly vulnerable group is made destitute by design to maximize self-reliance (i.e. begging) before an inadequate welfare safety net catches their fall.
On 30 July at the Skyline Tower Immigration offices Adnan met his duty lawyer who then asked him to collect transport money from ISS-HK. A few hours later he was back at ISS-HK and produced the documents entitling him to the bus fare. To his disbelief he was told, “You have no case worker, how can we give you money?” Adnan felt that ISS-HK was toying with him and noticed the irony of a situation in which he had a duty lawyer, but had no place to sleep, no food and no bus money.
Unimpressed with such incompetence Adnan’s indignation rose and ISS-HK responded by calling the police to remove him. His file was transferred to the ISS-HK branch in Mongkok, where a day later he encountered the same ineptitude and again the police was called when he expressed his displeasure. “I understand how the system is going on” he laments “ISS guaranteed my release but now they just take salary like the duty lawyer and refuse to give me something to eat.”
Enlightened by hardship this perceptive and assertive refugee explains, “I have a mind. I understand that I have a duty lawyer that push my case. How much money do they pay her? But they don’t give me food? I don’t have the necessary to live, shelter, what I need to eat, but ISS has salary. That is what I am surprised! How can I live like this? They think I don’t need to eat?”
Adnan explains, “I am a technician for aluminum frames and glass. I can cut mirror glass so many sheets in one hour. In one hour I can cut ten mirrors! I can easily make money to survive, but I cannot work as a refugee. Inside CIC I had place to sleep, I eat three times, the machine wash my clothes, I play basketball every afternoon and now look at me … I am a homeless beggar!”
Hong Kong’s culture of rejection made a rapid impression on this young man. “I know the system” he elucidates “They punish you for coming here, so you don’t call others to come to Hong Kong. Me I understand this when they asked me, ‘Who called you to Hong Kong?’ They want to know if anyone told me to come, but I came by myself to save my life. I don’t know what I will do truly!”
“When I see the situation, it is true that in CIC at 9pm I sleep like a baby. How do I sleep in garden (Kowloon Park)? It is very hot. ISS has the power but they don’t know how to use it. God willing, I wish they give the power to somebody else who knows how to use it. This is the problem with the refugee situation here. ISS say to me ‘There are many people before you’ but how do they know my situation? I don’t have the necessary for life. How can I live? If they have too many new people they must organize. ‘CIC WAS HEAVEN!’ I shouted to ISS”.