A South Asian refugee moved his family into a traditional Chinese house in Au Tau, south of Yuen Long village, to protect his two year-old daughter from the unhygienic and unhealthy conditions many of his friends endure in refugee slums. He didn’t want his daughter to live and play in a filthy environment where she could get injured by rusty metal sheets or sick with the dirty water.
The family of three paid a few hundred dollars more than their monthly rent allowance for a decrepit brick house they considered safer than plywood and tin shacks. Little did they know that this assumption would be perilously challenged! Refugees receive 1500$ in rent assistance and children half of that amount. The housing reality is such that in most cases they can only afford illegal spaces in converted animal farms.
Vision First visited this family’s house in June and our attention was alarmingly drawn to a bulging wall that appeared to barely support the weight of the building. The family had buttressed a side wall with an internal brick structure that in retrospect might have only postponed the inevitable. A rickety wooden ladder led to a mezzanine floor where the family slept under the tiled roof.
“I was cooking dinner when I heard the wall crashing. I was so scared! I turned around and ran to the door. As I ran I heard the wall collapse behind me. The roof came down. It was like the walls were chasing me outside” said the wife about her escape. “Lucky my husband and daughter were outside walking because otherwise they would have been hurt. My neighbours only saw me and were shocked. They thought my daughter was inside!”
The brick house collapsed in heavy rain three nights before a Signal 8 typhoon struck Hong Kong. It had been a lucky escape. A few minutes later the family would have been dining by the wall that collapsed. A few hours later they would have been crushed in their sleep. A few days later they would have been buried alive when the typhoon unleashed its power on the crumbling house.
This near tragedy raises concerns about the extreme housing conditions refugees are subjected to and the general indifference to this shameful situation. The truth of the matter is that for 1500$ (or multiples for families) legal, basic rooms are unavailable as even the slums cost more. This incident demonstrates that refugees live in the most dangerous structures in Hong Kong and nobody is listening to complains that certain structures are about to collapse.
In our view, it is only a matter of time before some refugees will perish in illegal or substandard accommodation approved by ISS-HK under contract with the Social Welfare Department of the Hong Kong Government – an ironical situation considering the government supposed firm stance against dangerous and illegal structures. When that tragic day comes it will be too late to point fingers as million-dollar damage claims are brought against all parties concerned.