Eighteen months ago, on 19 May 2013, Vision First exposed the deplorable (and in our view illegal) living conditions of refugees residing in alleged illegal structures supported and subvented by ISS-HK with rent assistance paid to purported landlords from the government purse.
One and a half year later, little has ostensibly changed, except for Vision First being sued for defamation by ISS-HK. Despite overwhelming evidence presented to local and international media, including CNN exposing “Hong Kong’s shameful treatment of refugees”, civil society remains embarrassingly silent about the government abuse of vulnerable refugees.
A code of silence apparently paralyzes social workers, refugee workers and legal practitioners who work daily with the refugee community. These professionals are presumably concerned with human rights, protection and justice, however, to our knowledge, nobody visits the slums or reports on the cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of refugees living in abject destitution. Why?
In the second half of 2014, Vision First exposed sixty-six (66) refugee slums where protection claimants are housed in blatant disregard of numerous laws relating to building structures, rental properties, health and hygiene, fire safety and others. It is perplexing that not a single government department stepped forward to address related problems. Why?
In this bleak environment Vision First is undaunted in its mission to counter refugee slums in Hong Kong and the deplorable treatment of hundreds of men, women and children forced into unacceptable living conditions. A handful of the worse slums were closed down when ISS-HK stopped renewing (questionable) tenancy agreements, though business is thriving in others.
This marked an apparent shift in policy. Prior to the slums being exposed, there seemed to be little concern for proof of ownership. Currently ISS-HK case workers only approve alleged illegal structures where landlords prove ownership of the land. Vision First takes credit for this small, but meaningful success that could be interpreted as an indirect admission of responsibility.
“I lived in this metal hut for three years” said a Bangladeshi refugee, “My case worker [from ISS-HK] took photos to show the bed and the fridge and the fabric covering the metal sheets. She didn’t want to see what was behind.” Such superficial and arguably misleading documentation might submit to the Social Welfare Department contracts and photos supporting adequate housing.
SWD officials are invited to join Vision First in a field inspection of the slums. They would learn that, for example, the new compound illustrated below (“Slum Number 67”) is comprised of metal huts with broken window frames and broken windows that cannot be closed because missing handles. Cooking and washing facilities are appalling and the toilet is several minutes’ walk from the hut. The grim reality its tenant endures is not reflected by the tenancy agreement and a photo of his bed.