The village of Ha Che (下輋) is located in the rural area of Pat Heung (八鄉) where a slum fire took the life of a Srilankan refugee on 25 January 2015. Vision First campaigned for two years against refugee slums and exposed the dangerous, unhygienic conditions refugees are forced to endure without assistance or resources to rent basic, functional and safe housing.
Truth is, the results we achieved prior to the two slum fires were debatable. The SWD contractor ISS-HK only closed down the worst compounds, while slum lords got busy improving access, structures and facilities in dozens of other ghettos that remained unchallenged, despite being in gross violation of countless rules and regulations.
Slum refurbishment and improvement was the new strategy. It didn’t seem to matter that tin sheds and wooden huts were unauthorized structures that failed to meet building, hygiene and safety standards. Provided rooms had four walls and a false ceilings, ramshackle structures were good enough to settle refugees.
A case in point was the development of an area in “The slum in three sheds” reported by Vision First on 12 June 2014. A scrap yard around a small and dilapidated ancestral house was constructed into a large slum after our visit. ISS-HK approved this location for refugees in September 2014 according to the local fixer who proudly showed us around the business he was hopping to grow.
The fixer (name withheld) said he is not the registered owner, but leases the agricultural lot excluding the old brick house. He is probably not a farmer because there is no cultivation, or chicken sheds such as the modern operation across the ditch where poultry is for sale. He appears to be fixer engaged with ISS-HK in the slum business for profit. (A fixer is a person who uses influence or makes arrangements for others, especially by improper or unlawful means)
He prides himself as a humanitarian, “I want to help refugees, they are homeless. We are Hong Kong people, we have heart. We don’t want people to suffer. I built these two sheds with 20 rooms, portable toilets, outside kitchens. There is firefighting equipment everywhere … Where is the danger? ISS said no good. ISS stopped paying rent. Where should these foreigners go? Should I kick them into the street? Will you pay their rent? Why this place is no good?”
The fixer is upset with ISS-HK and feels unjustly treated. The fact that he erected illegal structures without permits escapes him. Water splashes inside the container when he flushes the primitive contraptions offered as toilet-shower to demonstrate that water flushes human waste into the field. The mobile kitchens are so rudimentary refugees don’t use them.
It appears that the fixer entered the slum business too late. He explained that the shed with 12 rooms rented to ISS-HK in September 2014, while the one with 8 rooms was operational in October. He gave us a tour kicking metal sheet to prove stability. “There were many refugees living her, but they left after ISS stopped paying rent” he laments.
The fixer is bitter, “I spent a lot of money to make these rooms. I told ISS I will build brick toilets in the field, but they said no good. There are buckets of water [for firefighting], but ISS said no good. Is this fair? From September till February they approved 20 refugees to live here, then they said, ‘No tin sheds.’ Who will pay me back the money I spent here? I cannot rent these rooms to locals. Even students will not live here. What am I supposed to do?”