On 17 September, ISS Tanya Sze visited Rosy and her newborn baby in the Slum with the Honeymoon Room. Tanya approved the rundown hut and failed to offer a safe, clean and legal alternative. With a trick question, Tanya asked the mother, “Do you want to leave?” Fearing being homeless with a baby and to avoid confrontation, Rosy confirmed she wanted to stay. Tanya registered the answer she needed.
Tanya made no effort to relocate this family to a basic, decent room. Refugees live destitute and in fear of losing welfare assistance as they cannot work. As a result, they hold on to the only place they can afford, even tin shacks. When sleeping in the street is the alternative, huts are palaces. ISS Norma Chan led another refugee to a partitioned chicken farm and warned offensively, “You have no choice!”
The Social Welfare Department recently wrote, “ISS-HK has contacted over 110 asylum seekers and refugees who are living in areas not for residential purpose, and has been strenuously discussing with them for alternative accommodation. All service users concerned however prefer to stay at their current abodes which are secured by themselves.”
It is disingenuous these strenuous discussions amounts to offering a choice between living in the slums or sleeping in the streets – for adults and children alike. It is unreasonable to ask refugees “Do you want to leave?” without offering adequate rent and security deposits. Refugees cannot secure regular rooms when they don’t have two dollars to rub together. If Tanya and Norma can sign 1200$ leases without deposits and agency fees, then they are pulling tricks others cannot.
Through its own mechanism, over many years ISS-HK has systematically placed refugees into slums located across the New Territories. ISS has actively continued to do so despite the initial Ping Che slums were exposed to the public in May 2013. ISS sanctioned these illegal slums, putting refugees into inhuman, degrading and inherently dangerous conditions.
Before the slums were exposed to the public, ISS-HK had never asked anyone to leave the slums. It was only after they were exposed that ISS started asking residents to move out of known slums. This effort was clearly an ad hoc attempt to make the slums disappear. Of significance however, ISS continues to systematically push refugees into other slums not yet exposed by Vision First.
Further, ISS-HK created previous conditions that forced hundreds of refugees into shacks, namely, ISS refused to provide the necessary financial and in kind assistance to ensure basic necessities were met. ISS has never agreed to provide rental deposits and full financial assistance to allow any of the 110 asylum seekers to move out of illegal structures.
Currently ISS-HK is settling refugees into guesthouses. ISS is promoting rooms in Chung King Mansion that were banned as insalubrious in 2010 while the secretive slum policy expanded away from the public eye. Today outlying slums are more troublesome for ISS than seedy guesthouses that are nonetheless legal.
It is shocking that the ISS-HK blames refugees for staying in slums when it is obvious they have failed to secure residential flats with long term leases for them to relocate to. It is also apparent that the Social Welfare Department has failed to inspect the various slums to ascertain the actual zoning, living conditions and circumstances that ISS has sanctioned for refugees with government funds.