Hong Kong needs welfare services for new arrivals

Post Date: Dec 13th, 2013 | Categories: Advocacy | COMMENT

With about 1200 new protection claimants arriving each year, Hong Kong needs a refugee hostel and welfare services for new arrivals. It is unthinkable that an international city, with 45 million visitors a year, offers asylum protection without first-step services for individuals with physical and psychological trauma and no support network. It is trite to say that refugees flee violent persecution to seek refuge in a safe place, arriving with few linguistic skills and no resources or connections.

Refugee homelessness was indeed considered by the government. The SWD Tender Reference SWD/T002/2011 states that, “The objective of providing the Services is to ensure that while … claim … is being processed … the Service User will not, during his stay in Hong Kong … be left to sleep on the street … be seriously hungry … be unable to satisfy the most basic requirements of hygiene.”

It is evident that these objectives are generally missed considering the destitution of new arrivals.

Immigration states, “Surrendered overstayer should bring along his/her personal identification documents … Determined on the merits of the facts of each individual case, a surrender may be arrested.  He/she may either be detained or released on bail.  He/she may also be released on recognizance pending removal from Hong Kong.” All releases are between 1 day and 3 months.

On 28 September 2012 International Social Service (ISS-HK) won tender G.N. 3332 and was allocated 396,877,881 HK$ for provision of assistance to refugees – including the prevention of homelessness and hunger. It is unclear whether little priority was given to homeless, hungry new arrivals, or whether funds aren’t efficiently deployed. It is a well-known fact that the welfare provision to new arrivals is a complete failure and has been so since 2006.

The conditions endured by new arrivals are appalling. Prevented from working, destitute refugees experience desperate situations. It takes 2 to 3 months to start assistance from ISS-HK and during this prolonged period, claimants have no place to sleep, nothing to eat and nowhere to wash or leave luggage. It is ludicrous that ISS-HK (recipient of 400M dollars) advises refugees to visit Christian Action and Vision First (recipients of 2M dollars). A travesty of this nature requires no commentary.

Current arrangements by ISS-HK are wholly inadequate to meet the needs of new arrivals.

Vision First urges the Social Welfare Department to assess the needs of new arrivals immediately upon release from Immigration offices or detention. The assessment cannot end with a referral to ISS-HK considering that 90 days will pass before assistance is given. There need to be services in this gap. When a person has no money, it is cruel to expect them to scavenge in a city they don’t know. It is the government’s duty to ensure that protection claimants are not left on the street.

The failure to put in place services for the first 24 hours and few weeks, has contributed to the degrading hardship suffered by new arrivals. These men and women suffer a plight that was not contemplated by those who extended the UN Convention against Torture to Hong Kong. Legal advocates would further stress that human rights enshrined in the Basic Law and Bill or Rights are infringed.

It is the government’s duty to ensure that new arrivals have food and shelter in the first month.

Vision First urges the government to investigate refugee experiences during the first month in town. Most pertinently, the government should ensure that new arrivals are provided with safe and clean lodging, as well as food and basic needs, without having to beg. It should be noted that refugees are in the most vulnerable state when they first arrive and are then in the greatest need of assistance. In this respect, it is a fact that ISS-HK does nothing for refugees in the first 2 to 3 months.

Vision First urges the government to urgently remedy this shameful situation.