On 24 September 2013, Vision First assisted 80 refugees in a demonstration outside the ISS office in Tsuen Wan. The police took the event seriously and outnumbered protesters two-to-one, as if they expected trouble. This was not the first time the government belatedly confronted a social problem that could have been easily avoided. Read the blog, “Refugees protest food abuse at ISS-HK Tsuen Wan“
It was discontent with food provisions that drove refugees to complaint. The trigger point was not the quantity or quality of food – issues they have put up with for years – but the alteration of collections from 3 to 6 times a month. In itself that wasn’t a drama. The problem was that ISS claimed the change was necessary to supply fresher fruit and vegetables, which turned out to be untrue.
Instead, refugees realized they were being cheated: the bags of groceries were significantly lighter than before. People became suspicious. They made lists and took photos. Angry refugees refused to be treated like beggars. Not only were the grocery packages smaller, but the diminished amounts left them hungry. There was growing evidence of a sinister manipulation of food supplies. What was really going on?
It was crystal clear ISS had engineered the change to conceal a reduction. Vision First denounced this senseless harassment of refugees who – not being allowed to work – risked jail for working to buy food. We urged authorities to investigate the quantity, quality and distribution system as organized by ISS through seven dedicated shops. More analysis on the 53 million dollar food contract and the ‘Vanish Food Magic Trick’ is available here.
The South China Morning Post reported that, “Each claimant will be entitled to HK$1,200 worth of food a month, up by HK$140. And the allowance for basic utilities will rise by HK$30 to HK$300 per head.” Hold on a moment. The current utility allowance is 190$, so clarifications are in order. As for the food value, it matters not what the SWD pays ISS, but what ISS supplies to refugees!
The enhancement will only be trusted if refugees collect 1200$ of groceries a month – at wholesale prices – without shifty cuts, reductions or losses. Anything less points to fraudulent practices in the distribution chain and should be of grave concern to authorities. Vision First will keep vigilant: we will count and value and monitor the system to ensure transparency.
On 24 September 2013, we had no illusions of changing the system. Any fight for social justice is an arduous one, particularly on behalf of non-citizens. It is with great satisfaction that we received, unconfirmed, news that ISS will revert to 3 times food distribution in February. Staff in the seven shops have already informed many refugees. It has taken four months for that protest action – and several blogs – to bear fruit, but it is mission accomplished.
Refugees are learning that public demonstrations have the power to change their destiny.