• Sun
  • Sep 21, 2014
  • Updated: 4:28pm
NewsHong Kong

U.N. concern at plight of Hong Kong asylum seekers living in squalor

Refugee agency officials issue warning on living conditions in compounds in the New Territories

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 September, 2013, 7:25pm

UN refugee officials have revealed their concern for the welfare of nearly 1,000 asylum seekers living in squalor around Hong Kong.

They have warned the government it is failing to ensure their right to an adequate standard of living.

UN spokeswoman Eri Kaneko said: "There are currently just under 1,000 asylum seekers in Hong Kong who are persons of concern to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)."

She said the agency was "keenly aware of the difficult living conditions that asylum seekers face [in the city]".

She said the UNHCR had spoken to the government about the "inadequacy" of the rental allowance and other provisions for refugees and asylum seekers.

Kaneko said the rental allowance appeared to fall below that required to provide acceptable accommodation.

"The UNHCR will continue reaching out to the government to ensure the well-being of asylum seekers in Hong Kong and their right to an adequate standard of living," Kaneko said.

Last week, the Sunday Morning Post found hundreds of asylum seekers living in squalid conditions at 17 compounds in the New Territories. The accommodation is provided by the International Social Service Hong Kong (ISS-HK), which is responsible for their welfare.

But landlords have begun serving eviction notices to some asylum seekers, claiming ISS-HK has not been paying their rent.

The government will pay HK$203 million to the ISS-HK this year. The figure is meant to cover the rent, a pack of groceries for each asylum seeker every 10 days and other basic necessities.

The asylum seekers get no access to the cash and are not allowed to work.

Last month, the Post reported on a pigeon farm that had been illegally converted to provide accommodation for eight ISS-HK clients in Hung Shui Kiu, just north of Tuen Mun. A human rights group described it as "a degrading slum unfit for human habitation". Police have since launched an inquiry into allegations that ISS-HK provided "inappropriate accommodation".

Three ISS-HK tenants at the farm have been rehoused, but a political refugee from West Africa said the landlord had demanded that all the tenants move out by Tuesday. The West African was moved to a guest house several days ago.

More asylum seekers have come forward to reveal how their pleas for help have gone ignored.

Pakistan-born Tamoor Ahmed, 33, who has lived in a shack under a flyover in Chuk San Tsuen for three years, said he had repeatedly asked for help from ISS-HK because his room kept flooding, but to no avail.

The landlady of a site underneath the Kong Sham Western Highway in the northwestern New Territories, who identified herself as Mami Lam, said three of her new ISS-HK residents had not paid rent in three months.

She said: "I give them money for buses and dinners. They don't pay and I lose money."

The ISS-HK said it could not comment on individual cases, but said it was complying with the terms of its contract with the government. "This means we have continued to do home visits, met clients individually for their assistance and dealt with complaints and concerns as they arise," it said in a statement.

The government did not respond to requests for comment.


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This article is now closed to comments

Kevin Lau
Indeed, the HK government has failed to adress the poverty of local people. Should the UN push the HK government to improve the living standard of the poor in HK? I think the local poor have the first priority to get more financial allowance instead of the asylum seekers.
A HKer
A lot of these comments show a lack of compassion and quite simply - shameful ignorance. I hope it doesn't reflect the majority of HK people.
A HKer
May I enquire as to the countries of origin of these likely "economic migrants" AND the methods they use to reach Hong Kong? By land, sea or air ? How long does it take the UNHCR to process these claims as refugees and how thoroughly ? Is there any investigation carried out except by interviewing these migrants?
Or, they were just picked up on the mainland and simply pushed over the border - penniless, of course ?
Danny Lee,(danny.lee@scmp.com), please be more even-handed and investigative, not just a copywriter ! Unless that position was being advertised?
And on a completely unrelated note: SCMP, Ms Eri Kaneko is clearly a woman. Hence, she is definitely not a 'spokesman.' She would be a 'spokeswoman' if you would like to stick to gender-defined job descriptions. Or, if you have trouble with that for whatever reason, just stick to the gender-neutral 'spokesperson.'
Thank you for the correction SCMP. I see Ms Kaneko is now a 'spokeswoman' again.
Indeed, there is a disturbing amount of ignorant, narcissistic xenophobia on display in this comments section.

1. These people are refugees recognised by the UNHCR. They are not 'economic migrants.' If you want to take aim at 'economic migrants,' then look no further than the tens of thousands of mainland immigrants to HK every year. Have a blast.

2. The whole point of being a refugee is that you cannot go back home. It isn't a matter of will. It is a matter of life and death. They go back home, they die. It is that simple. So telling them to 'go back to their own country' equals saying 'go die.' Please think before you say such things.

3. They sell drugs? Sigh. Do you have any proof? A shred of reasonable suspicion? Then call the police please. If not, don't go venting your racist biases here.

4. It is the UN's problem. Right. And Hong Kong (the PRC of course) is not a member of the UN anymore somehow? We operate in a political vacuum? We are Asia's World City, except for when it comes to the more unpleasant worldly matters? The UN's problem = our problem too.

Taking care of 1,000 asylum seekers with -provisional- refugee status is actually an astonishing low number for a city of 7m people. We should be ashamed of ourselves for helping so few people, and for being unable to provide even just basic accommodation to them. They don't have to stay at the Peninsula, but something that doesn't flood every time it rains should be on the cards.
Strongly agree. I could not articulate the points better than you did, especially for point 2. And it's not only telling them to "go die", it's also "go back and be raped, tortured, arrested, imprisoned, and be horribly treated in all sorts of way".
"Non-refoulement" - not sending back asylum-seekers to their country of origin before determining their refugee status - is one of the first and primary international human rights principle. Unless starting from tomorrow Hong Kong decides to cut off itself from the whole world, we have our duty to implement human rights. And for God's sake, we're talking about 1,000 people here, which is about 0.00001% of the global refugee population.
The UN and other international globalists has no business meddling in Hong Kong's affairs. They have no business telling local people how their government should spend money. It is a local issue. If that Afghanistan guy does not like it here, he can go back to Afghanistan and fix his own country instead of complaining about that others have to give him money. "Basic allowance", that is other people's hard earned money. "The government should" means free stuff for those who are too lazy and uncapable to do serious work. They better improve themselves and offer something valuable to society before asking for anything.
islemount: me too. Hong Kong has the resources to provide legitimate refugees with a basic level of accommodation as well as doing the same for its own citizens. Govt's priorities are in support of the 1% and I think this is influencing the harsh opinions expressed in these comments.




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