Evicted squatters mourn homes of 30 years

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 November, 2007, 12:00am

Families and elderly people who have been long-term squatters were evicted from their homes in Tin Hau yesterday.

Police, social workers and officers from the Home Affairs Department and Buildings Department evicted 20 squatters, some of whom had lived in their illegal homes for over 30 years.

A team of 34 government and police officers arrived in the rear lane between Gordon Road and Wing Hing Street at 9.30am to remove the squatters from seven poorly constructed homes, most made with corrugated iron roofs and makeshift wooden walls.

Among those evicted was retired craftsman Lam Ying-pui, 77, who built his 100-square-foot home in 1975, where he lived with his mother until she died three years ago.

As officers prepared to enter, Mr Lam lit candles in front of his mother's photo. 'I have nothing, I am homeless, I would rather die in front of them,' he said, before bursting into tears and hiding under a table.

Minutes later, he walked out carrying his mother's picture and a small bag, crying 'mother' in the Hokkien dialect. He now expects to sleep on the streets.

Social Welfare Department staff were sent to help persuade residents to leave their homes, while riot police were deployed but the squatters left peacefully.

'The government registered our flats and gave each a number, but now it has declared our flats illegal,' complained grandfather Lee Chung-chit, who demanded compensation.

Mr Lee said the government offered them interim accommodation in Po Tin Estate, Tuen Mun, but he refused as his two granddaughters attended kindergarten in Tin Hau.

The residents filed a judicial review at the High Court in April this year, but the court ruled the squatters should be removed as they were occupying a private area.

A spokeswoman for Home Affairs said only one resident agreed to move to Po Tin Estate yesterday. Two families would rent flats in the same district with social workers' help.

She said the removal of the squatters was part of the 'Team Clean' campaign launched in November 2003 after the outbreak of Sars.

According to Home Affairs, the public and district councillors had complained about bad hygiene in the rear lane.

District councillor Jennifer Chow Kit-bing said residents now faced several problems. 'Residents worry that they have to spend five years waiting for public estate flats, and they want to stay in the same district,' she said. 'But the current policy is so rigid because it only allows CSSA receivers to live in the same district, while some residents refused to apply for CSSA despite meeting the requirements.'