On 25 February 2015 at 10:30pm alarming SMS circulated, “Good evening, I want to give information. There is fire in the Chung Uk Tsuen [slums] near the home of Yusna. Precisely in the house of Refugee Union Francesca … two houses burnt to a crisp … She was rushed to the hospital because she was limp and panic.”
A month after a fire took the life of Sri Lankan refugee Lucky, another blaze raged through a compound near Tuen Mun, in an area with the highest concentration of refugee slums supported by ISS-HK with government funds. An intricate maze of narrow paths intersect agricultural lots where rusty, ramshackle ruins of pigsties and chicken sheds are turned into illegal dwellings.
It is reported that a gas cylinder blew up in the shack of a resident Pakistani, starting a blaze that engulfed the compound familiar to Vision First as “The slum with the rusty gate”, reported on 4 October 2013. At the time we noted that residents lived in and maintained better abodes than penniless refugees who cannot afford repairs and whose ISS-HK contracts displayed fake addresses.
Police cordoned off the area to facilitate the work of dozens of firemen and medics who worked frantically till 2pm. Preliminary information indicates that the blaze broke out shortly after 9pm and took almost four hours to extinguish presumably due to a lack of fire hydrants and vehicular access, combined with challenging nighttime conditions.
Assuming that all slum dwellers escaped unscathed, the complex erection of several shacks on two storeys and the unregulated storage of gas cylinders probably increased the danger faced by rescuers. This blaze didn’t only threaten the life and property of refugees, but also of residents who apparently don’t enjoy the building standards and fire safety regulations which ought to protect everyone by law.
Vision First is concerned about Francesca and her two year-old son Ismaeel who lived in one of the huts reported to have burned to ashes. In 2010 Francesca fled to Hong Kong with a well-founded fear for her life. She was not a domestic worker. The awful living conditions she endured in the slum bore witness to the severity of the domestic violence that compelled her to leave five children behind.
Last night Francesca was taken by ambulance to hospital in a state of shock. She often complained about her dangerous hut, but had no money to relocate. Her home flooded in the rain, backed in the sun and seemed poised to collapse under its own weight. Hers was one of the worst shacks documented and a crying shame for caseworkers who permitted a mother and baby to live there.
An act of God draws attention again to the slums where indigent people – in this case residents and refugees – live in hazard conditions that the authorities chose to ignore despite their very existing challenging rules and regulations. An activist observed, “The rule of law is bent. But since no one complaints, it is fine. Let business go unimpeded, since business is all that matters in Hong Kong.”