Hong Kong needs sustainable solutions in refugee policy

Post Date: Feb 11th, 2015 | Categories: Housing, Immigration, VF Opinion, Welfare | COMMENT

Rose is a refugee mother living in the slums. She was distressed speaking to us, “My officer no give money to the landlord from 1 February. The officer said ‘Danger the place. You find another room. Rent money stopped paying already.’ Room outside very expensive. I must find another room, but I don’t have money. What can I do?”

Rose lamented, “If I leave and stay in ISS shelter where I put my property? I have double-bed, full kitchen and many bags of clothes for me, my husband and son. Landlord said we must pay cash for February rent or we cannot leave. [In her slum] landlord is asking 30 refugees to pay cash this month. He threaten everyone to pay before we leave.”

In September 2006 a South Asian refugee was settled in a pig farm by ISS-HK. His caseworker approved the arrangement with the landlord without inspecting the shack as Vision First reported in August 2013. A few months later ISS-HK relocated him to a guesthouse. Yesterday he was alarmed, “ISS said I must leave by Thursday. The cheapest room is 3000$ so where I find a room for 1500$. Where do I go? I am very afraid.”

Aziz is a vocal campaigner for better housing assistance for refugees evicted from the slums. He is unable to find a cheap enough room for himself and his wife. He reports, “ISS didn’t pay our rent in January and February. But ISS continue to pay for electricity and water. Why they don’t give more money to rent [better accommodation] than give it to the landlord? Officers from Lands Department tell to me this lot must all be demolished and turned into farmland.”

Richard is an African refugee settled by ISS-HK in a guesthouse 14 months ago when he was unable to secure a 1500$ room. He reports, “My caseworker said I must leave on Monday, but I refuse. Where I go? Do they want me to live in the street? ISS put me in a guesthouse when I was homeless a year ago. Today house prices are much higher and they still want me to find a room for the old price. What are they thinking? Refugees are not animals to kick outside …”

An SWD spokesperson responded to our bog “Housing crisis expanding to guesthouses” with this comment, “Thank you for your email of 6 February 2015 regarding the claimants living in guest houses arranged by ISS. We are looking into the matter and ISS has been alerted about it.” Something is not right. Isn’t the contractor implementing policies dictated by the government? Isn’t shifting responsibility to underlings cowardly incompetent to say the least?

Facts lead us to believe that the authorities caused the present housing crisis by a combination of (un)foreseen ramifications and unforgiving market forces. The time has come for the government to rethink their approach and the following constraints should be evaluated:

  1. refugees are not a temporary ‘problem’ to be fixed with residual humanitarian assistance;
  2. a work ban disempowers refugees from actively participating in problem solving;
  3. unrealistic rent assistance prices refugees out of basic rooms, exposes them to incarceration for working illegally while enriching unscrupulous citizens;
  4. after years of negligence the refugee slums are targeted for closure following Lucky’s death;
  5. lodging refugees in guesthouses for about 7000$ a month was ill-advised;
  6. the escalating housing crisis is a threat to social stability and public security that demands longterm, sustainable and reality-based solutions.
Hong Kong needs sustainable solutions in refugee policy
Refugees survey part of a slum that settled their community for several years. In December 2014 the landlord ordered the destruction of unauthorized structures targeted by lease enforcement officers of the Lands Department. Fear of outright losing land is an incentive powerful enough to break the lucrative collusion with ISS-HK to settle refugees illegally. What is next for dispossessed refugees?