Let us put ourselves in the shoes of newly arrived homeless refugees, presumably desperate to get off the street and secure a roof over theirs and possibly their family’s head. Refugees are generally informed by either the authorities or their peers of the bleak life they are going to live in Hong Kong.
New-arrivals will eventually be directed to immigration authorities, if not first arrested, and upon release register at one of the SWD Integrated Family Centers around Hong Kong upon. After a means assessment and a 3 to 4 month wait, they are referred to ISS-HK, the government contractor for the provision of welfare to asylum seekers and refugees.
Newcomers learn of further restrictions on their livelihood: not only are they banned from working and will be jailed 15 to 22 months for doing so, but the rent assistance provided is arguably half of market prices for the cheapest subdivided rooms in the most rundown buildings. The present rate is 1500$, but it was 1200$ at the time ISS-HK circulated the document below.
It is at that time that refugees end up either following their peers wherever they live, to tap into similar cheap housing, or they are provided by their caseworker with addresses where they may find accommodation. In this case, one caseworker briefed a desperate homeless refugee on the rigid 1200$ rent ceiling (at the time offering neither security deposit or agency fee) and proactively encouraged him to contact the purported landlords of item 5 and item 6, which were duly marked for attention.
Several critical observations leap forward:
- The rooms in slums are often conveniently priced around the level of rent assistance;
- Other rooms seem to be priced far beyond the reach of destitute refugees;
- “No proof of ownership” evinces knowledge of unauthorized structures and land use;
- Item 6 is annotated with “6 to 7 rooms” that the caseworker keenly promoted;
- Item 6 is annotated with “house owner rent the land” indicative of a middleman/facilitator;
- Item 6 is annotated with “new address not in accommodation master list”;
(The authorities ought to forensically analyses such master lists)
- Items 3, 4, 5, 6 are identifiable by Vision First as known slums in those areas;
- Items 4, 5 and 6 indicate “washrooms” which are known to be water buckets;
- Items 4, 5 and 6 indicate “kitchen”, sample photos of which are displayed here;
- Destitute homeless refugees are cunningly forced towards the slums!
Vision First researched extensively the conditions and dynamics that pushed refugees into the 69 slums we identified. We were told by several purported landlords that the joint enterprise started with a connection at ISS-HK, details will be produced in due course. We believe that the documents with the contact numbers of 8 slum lords and the one below with the details of rooms at 4 slums, manifestly give the lie to any claim that ISS-HK had no part in a joint enterprise to settle refugees in slums. Some observers might go as far as calling these smoking guns.
Besides, whether it is admitted or not, nothing changes the fact that these slums are unauthorized structures never listed by the Lands Department for human habitation and as such should be promptly dismantled when those responsible wake up from a deep slumber.