Hazardous structures endanger life in the slum on two storeys

Post Date: Feb 4th, 2015 | Categories: Crime, Housing, VF Report, Welfare | COMMENT

The death of refugee Sivarajah Sivatharan, known as Lucy, is drawing heightened attention to a slum where SWD contractor International Social Service (“ISS-HK”) settled him in collaboration with a purported landlord whose reprehensible exploitation of refugees must end.

Lucky was a Tamil who fled the war in Sri Lanka for the safety of Hong Kong. He was registered by ISS-HK for provision of welfare in September 2008. It is unknown when ISS-HK approved the unauthorized structure in which he met a burning death on 29 January 2015, though it is reported that he lived there for three years and the oldest signed contract we obtained is dated 23 August 2013.

Over 30 refugees are presently settled in dangerous illegal structures erected on Lot 451 (rear portion) in Demarcation District 106 in the village of Ng Ka near Kam Tin. This repugnant arrangement degenerated markedly since our first report in November 2013 on “The Slum On Two Storeys”.

Documents obtained by Vision First suggest that the landlord bought this lot in late 2001 for 580,000$ after previous pig and chicken farming licenses were revoked. Around 2010 the landlord entered into a questionable, but highly lucrative arrangement with ISS-HK and, according to our calculations, earned more than 600,000$ a year in refugee rent assistance paid from the government purse.

The smug and arrogant landlord allegedly informed the Ng Ka Tsuen community chairman that he will rebuild the three burnt huts and rent them again. It is unclear whether ISS-HK will be in a position to continue its dubious relationship with this slum lord, let alone approve new shacks built over the site of the fatal accident after relevant authorities intervene.

Following the fire that took the life of Lucky, the refugees living in this slum raised a litany of grievances about the dangerous, unsanitary and inhumane conditions they endure:

  1. Dangerous overcrowding since 2010 pushed up occupancy from 20 to 35 refugees;
  2. The landlord displays good rooms to caseworkers, but lodges refugees in bad ones;
  3. Additional rooms were erected hazardously in empty spaces to maximize rental profit;
  4. Sanitary conditions are appalling with plastic bucket for showers;
  5. Certain rooms are little more than coffin-size cubicles on stilts with no standing space;
  6. Unbeknownst to ISS-HK, the landlord allocates more than one refugee per room;
  7. One unit with two small rooms is rented to 4 refugees forced to share 2 beds for 6000$;
  8. One unit with two small rooms is rented to 5 refugees for 6000$;
  9. Dangerous gas cylinder for cooking inside cubicle rooms with no windows;
  10. Appalling sanitary conditions with plastic buckets for showers;
  11. The landlord provided this heating devise for tenants to warm water to shower;
  12. Unsafe electrical works are concealed from view in closets;
  13. Obstructed, narrow passages would ensure a death zone in a fire at night;
  14. Overhead storage of flammable material present a serious fire hazard;
  15. Highly combustible foam-boards and plastic covers partition all cubicles;
  16. Lack of fire-fighting equipment and fire exits from the second storey;
  17. The landlord charges each refugee about 500$ on top of the 1500$ rent assistance;
  18. The landlord charges each refugee two months deposit on top of what ISS pays;
  19. The landlord overcharges refugees for electricity use using dodgy meters;
  20. The landlord refuses to issue receipts for the cash he collects from refugees.

Refugees raise doubts about ISS caseworkers systemically approving countless tenancy agreements for such apparent unauthorized structures. Especially when refugees report they are rarely: (i) visited in the rooms; (ii) asked to supply proof of ownership as required by SWD; (iii) asked how many of them are allocated to each cubicle. (iv) this obviously poses challenges to confirm the existence of basic functional facilities for cooking and washing and the overall safety of the cubicles.

Vision First urges relevant authorities, including the Social Welfare Department and Lands Department, to urgently clamp down on this dangerous slum and provide refugee tenants with the means to effectively compete in the rental market without having to resort to renting a room in another slum.

The least owed dearly departed Lucky is that his friends do not fall from the pan into the fire.