Vision First reports that 15 months after losing their home, a refugee family from Togo risks being homeless again with two young children. On 16 July 2013 we reported this family’s predicament when a rental increase for a rundown flat in Cheung Sha Wan put the family on the streets. ISS-HK had refused to pay a 900$ rent increase and an inexpensive 4500$ flat was lost.
Ibrahim explained that he had gone to the ISS-HK office and suggested to sleep there, if he was not booked into a guesthouse, or provided with an alternative arrangement. Instead, Ibrahim says he was removed by the police that were called to deal with a welfare issue. A less than humanitarian confrontation ensued and was reported by AM730 daily, exposing the grim reality of refugees crushed between insufficient welfare and draconian jail sentences for working.
A few days later the family was accommodated in a guesthouse where they resided for over a month. This arrangement may have cost tax-payers at least 12,000$ that we think could have been saved if 900$ had been confirmed for the original home. That wasn’t the end of it: from September 2013 till October 2014, the family was housed in a To Kwa Wan flat estimated to cost 2000$ more than the 4500$ flat they had been evicted from.
How much public money was wasted between July 2013 and October 2014?
Fast forward one year and the family faces the same predicament. On 22 October 2014 Ibrahim was notified by ISS-HK (without a letterhead) that his family would be evicted on 30 October 2014. Further, Ibrahim reported that electrical power to the flat was cut the previous week allegedly to force his eviction. He complained to the SWD Head-office and an urgent intervention by SWD staff compelled ISS-HK to supply battery-powered lamps to prevent the family from living in the dark. Now Ibrahim is worried that the water supply will be cut, as that would be unbearable for his wife and children.
Ibrahim says that he was urged to find a flat for 6000$ a month, but the family was frustrated by sky-rocketing rents and a lack of bus money to go flat-hunting around Kowloon. Ibrahim had previously reminded his ISS-HK case worker, “I don’t mind if the new place cost 1000$ or 6000$. If it is suitable for my family I will take it. But don’t tell me to pay extra money, because I don’t have money and I am not allowed to work.”
Ibrahim was hopeful when last week ISS-HK asked him to inspect another flat in To Kwa Wan that he saw and found suitable. The place was good, but there was a problem. Ibrahim was told by ISS-HK that he should find 4000$ to close the deal, as the rent is 7000$ and his rent allowance 6000$. In practice, Ibrahim requires 2000$ to top up two months deposit, 1000$ for the first month rent and 1000$ for the utility deposits. Ibrahim was stunned by what he was told, knowing that he cannot obtain any money unless he gets a job.
Vision First respectfully asks SWD to confirm that Ibrahim and his wife are authorized to work for the time they require to raise $4000 and thereafter to raise $1000 to pay the rent surplus that ISS-HK seem unwilling to provide to pay the family’s monthly rent in full.
Ibrahim commented to Vision First, “ISS gave me a budget of 6000$, but then sent me to see a 7000$ flat and expects me to find 4000$ cash! What are they thinking? My case worker told me to call NGOs and find the money. I am not a beggar and she is paid to house me. She knows I have no money and cannot work. It is shameful that ISS give refugees low budgets and then expect them to sign contracts and struggle every month to find extra money for rent!”
For nine years Ibrahim endured the inhospitable conditions of seeking asylum in Hong Kong. He has learned to speak up for himself and hold his ground as a protection claimant who, it should be noted, hasn’t been screened by Immigration Department since he arrived in October 2005.
Ibrahim assures, “This time I will go to the media myself and bring this matter to the public’s attention. I will not become homeless again without a struggle. I will refuse to move into a guesthouse where my children suffered too much last year. There was no space to move in the small room and we ate instant noodles and biscuits for a month, because we were not allowed to cook.”