On outreach in the Nai Wai area in November 2014, Vision First visited several refugee slums with Ibrahim, an office-bearer of the Refugee Union who wish to see for himself the appalling living conditions in these isolated ghettos. Ibrahim’s experience with rural conditions in Africa did not prepared him for what he witnessed as third-world conditions might be better.
Towards the end of the day, Ibrahim suddenly said he recognized a secluded area we entered. “I have been here before!” he exclaimed. “I recognize this place. It’s where Rachel Li [then an ISS-HK case worker, today ISS-HK Mongkok branch manager] sent me to find a room in the summer of 2010. I often wondered where this place was. I want to testify in court how she pushed my family to live in the slums after our contract expired in Cheung Sha Wan.”
Ibrahim explained, “I remember well because it was after my son was born in June 2010 and our family needed to move house. The contract ended and I asked Rachel Li to help get another place. The (rent assistance) budget for our family was 2800$ but we couldn’t find a suitable place in Kowloon. Rachel Li asked the ISS accommodation officer to give me a list of mobile numbers. I still have that list. I called some numbers and then met a Chinese lady who took me to this place.”
Over the years, Vision First gathered evidence contradicting claims by ISS-HK that refugees choose to live in the slums of their own accord and case workers play no part in the lucrative business generated by unscrupulous slum lords. Ibrahim is a credible witness to what happened. Since he arrived in October 2005 he had never visited a refugee slum until his case worker sent him there.
In the summer of 2010, his ISS-HK case worker Ms. Rachel Li proactively introduced him to slum lords by providing a list of contact numbers. She encouraged him to relocate his family out of Kowloon into illegal structures in the rural area. Ibrahim was not impressed. Despite being destitute and desperately seeking a home for his family, he turned down the hut offered at 2800$ a month.
Four years later, Ibrahim returned to the location that shocked his conscience and raised questions about ISS-HK methodology in housing vulnerable refugees. It isn’t unlikely that ISS-HK case workers were instructed to promote a “Slum Solution” to urban refugees with the aim of isolating them in ghettos to reduce welfare costs and minimize social participation.
Vision First exposed this compound in October 2013 as “No. 36 – The Slum Along The Ditch”, estimating that the purported slum lady pocketed 1,400,000 HKD in payments from ISS-HK, allegedly without submitting adequate proof of ownership and title deeds approving the compound as tenantable premises under Hong Kong law.
Will the Social Welfare Department continue to turn a blind eye to such questionable practices?