Call for action after family of 23 found in hut

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 September, 2007, 12:00am

Calls mounted yesterday for the removal of residency restrictions imposed on new migrants seeking public assistance or housing, after the plight of a 23-member family forced to squeeze into a tiny village house came to light.

A welfare group said many new migrants had been deprived of proper social services because of the so-called seven-year rule, which denies public housing to families if fewer than half of the family members have lived in Hong Kong for seven years.

The regulation also screens out new migrants from various welfare benefit schemes.

Lee Fung-yam, 71, used to live alone in a brick house in Sheung Cheuk Yuen village, Yuen Long, but he now shares it with 22 others after his wife, children, in-laws and grandchildren, most of them new arrivals, came to join him.

They share five rooms in the 600 sq ft hut, some as small as 50 sq ft, barely enough for a fan and a bunk bed. A corridor has been converted into a makeshift kitchen with five electric cookers.

A notice on a wall reads: 'You will feel happy when you feel adequate.'

Because most of the family members do not meet the seven-year requirement, the Lees do not qualify for public housing.

Sze Lai-shan, of the Society for Community Organisation, said the residency rule was to blame.

'[Seven years] is a long wait,' Ms Sze said. 'But it is a must for any new migrants to enjoy various social rights and benefits, such as the comprehensive social security assistance.'

She criticised the policy for being discriminatory and urged the government to scrap the requirement. She also said the government should speed up the building of public flats and give priority to families with young children.

Mr Lee's wife, 69, who declined to be named, said: 'Life is hard. But so far, so good. The whole family no longer has to be separated.'

She insisted they had no plan to apply for public assistance unless they could not make ends meet.

The Lees' case is the second in the past two months.

In July it was reported that a migrant family, the Chans, with nine members, were forced to pack themselves into a 200 sq ft flat. Their plight came to light when the needy family was stricken by food poisoning after having eaten leftovers.