Have welfare failures reached a boiling point?

Post Date: Dec 1st, 2014 | Categories: Advocacy | COMMENT

At a time when the Social Welfare Department launches a new tender process for welfare services to the refugee community, Vision First emphasizes that sound structures requires sound foundations. If the underlying parameters remain unchanged, it is doubtful the new contract will produce better results.

Policymakers should carefully consider “Temporary Work Permits” as a realistic option for 10,000 refugees in Hong Kong to effectively house, feed and support themselves without straining public funds. An inadequate welfare package (1500$ in rent and 1200$ in rations monthly) forces claimants to work and breach the law – whether that is an intentional result or not.

The ugly side of the current tender is plain to see for any refugee worker who steps out of her comfortable office to investigate the asylum scourge in the countryside. Fraudulent slum lords pocket up to half-a-million dollars a year (tax free?) from illegal structures rented to refugees, but paid by the present contractor with public funds. Will the new tender prohibit housing in unauthorized works?

Trapped between insufficient welfare and a prohibition to work, refugees are drowning in a bottomless lake. On top of rentals, there is a constant struggle to pay electricity bills that frequently exceed utility allowances for refugees battling heat in the summer and cold in the winter with damaged, discarded appliances. Will the new tender require legally compliant living conditions?

Since Vision First started visiting the slums in 2010, little has changed. Disappointingly hundreds of refugees still endure third world-like conditions. Wooden walls and metal rooftops pack human beings indecently into confined spaces far from urban residents’ sight. Dreadful cooking facilities comprises old fridges and damaged stoves which refugees are expected to buy without working. Will legally complaint facilities be required?

The Social Welfare Department cannot appraise tender performance only from carefully angled photographs of beds against tapestry walls. Independent field visits are essential and ought to be conducted without the contractor’s knowledge. Vision First is the only NGO to lead government officials to witness firsthand the failures of the current tender. Will the new tender be independently monitored?

It is obvious by looking at the photo below that questions may be raised at how such facilities were approved for human beings under the care of case workers under a government tender. None of the 69 slums exposed by Vision First have adequate cooking or bathing facilities. Some don’t even have hot water. Since 2010 the slum lady pictured below boiled on a fire cauldrons of water for refugees to mix in buckets to shower. Will the new tender prohibit such outrages?

Further, we can only speculate about the health risks such practice produces. Access to clean drinking water, which in this slum is pumped from an underground well, is denied in contravention of health regulations. Health issues can ensue when refugees are forced to drink, cook and bathe in untreated water drawn from the proximity of unauthorized drains and sewers. Will water works be monitored?

Vision First condemn the exploitation of refugees housed as cattle waiting for a one-way trip to the slaughter house. Will the new tender protect refugees if the old parameters remain unchanged?

Have welfare failures reached a boiling point