Police called in to deal with asylum seeker protest at Kowloon office

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 August, 2013, 4:44pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 August, 2013, 3:34am

A group of asylum seekers staged a seven-hour stand-off yesterday at an office in Prince Edward that gives them material aid, calling for better housing conditions.

Amid the presence of police, they tried to storm the office of the International Social Service Hong Kong branch, insisting on a group meeting with a director whom they said was scheduled to talk to them at 11am.

The stand-off ended at about 6pm after Labour Party legislator Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung helped arrange a meeting in two weeks time- with ISS branch chief executive Stephen Yau.

The director in question, Adrielle Panares, said it was not normal ISS practice to meet people in groups, except as families.

"I am not going to be subject to force and harassment and forced entry," Panares said.

Tensions broke out at the Hospital Authority's Li Po Chun Health Centre on Arran Street after about 10 asylum seekers - from Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere - arrived for the meeting, but found themselves barred from entry. Later 40 more arrived.

The building houses the ISS section that handles the provision of in-kind aid for asylum seekers. Since 2006, the ISS has been commissioned by the Social Welfare Department to provide assistance in the form of housing, food, transport allowances, clothing and other material provisions.

Cosmo Beatson, executive director of asylum support group Vision First, said ISS staff stationed a security guard outside and locked the door from the inside. They also called the police.

The office suggested they meet Panares one by one, but the asylum seekers refused, saying they wanted to meet as a group.

Several of them banged persistently on the doors and tried to push through dozens of policemen, some of whom held batons and shields.

Panares said separate meetings had been scheduled with only two asylum seekers, one at 11am and the other at 2pm. The meetings did not take place.

Had the group told her in advance they wanted to meet altogether, that could have been arranged and the managers of the relevant units could have attended, she said.

Panares said the asylum benefits system was under review and the Legislative Council was expected to discuss it in the autumn. "Yes, the situation sucks, and it's being reviewed, but no matter how many times you come to my office and make threats, if there is no policy change, we are stuck with the situation," she said.

"At the moment, I am not getting any additional funds."

In the last financial year, the ISS had a budget of HK$203 million from the department.