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  • Apr 24, 2014
  • Updated: 1:58am
NewsHong Kong

Government admits to putting asylum seekers in homes not fit to live in

Welfare department says asylum seekers are housed in non-residential accommodation. But police drop investigation into slum scandal

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 September, 2013, 4:41am

The Social Welfare Department has admitted its contractor in charge of asylum seekers' welfare is housing clients in homes not fit to live in. However, police have dropped their investigation into how some asylum seekers came to be living in squalor due to a lack of evidence.

A spokeswoman for the department said the contractor, the International Social Service Hong Kong Branch (ISS-HK), had asked more than 110 asylum seekers to move out of accommodation not fit for residential use. The result is a stand-off as clients are refusing to move.

"The ISS-HK has contacted more than 110 asylum seekers and refugees who are living in areas not meant for residential purposes and has been discussing alternative accommodation with them," the spokeswoman said.

"But they all prefer to stay in their current abodes, which they secured themselves. ISS-HK will continue to encourage them to move out and will mobilise the necessary resources to help them."

It is believed the asylum seekers are reluctant to move because their homes - which would have been subject to ISS-HK approval - are relatively cheap.

Even so, they often cost more than the ISS-HK housing allowance, and many of the asylum seekers have found jobs locally, albeit illegally, to help pay the extra cost.

News that police were dropping the investigation into asylum seekers' living conditions delivered a blow to human rights advocates seeking to overhaul the city's welfare system for these people.

The degrading conditions in which some are living came to light when a man was rushed to hospital after drinking contaminated water.

His home was then found to be a stinking old pigeon shed with no drinking water.

A police spokesman said: "The evidence obtained during the investigation has been seriously considered. As there is insufficient evidence to support the commission of any offence by any person, there will be no further investigation at this stage."

Adrielle Panares, ISS-HK's migrants programme director, insisted no asylum seeker was living in inappropriate housing.

"We are continuously monitoring the conditions of the clients, as per our practice. This means that we review each service user's assistance every month, conduct home visits, and, with the service users, look into addressing their concerns and needs," she said.

Robert Tibbo, a barrister specialising in human rights cases and a non-executive director of rights group Vision First, said ISS-HK was not taking responsibility.

"This effort to move the asylum seekers out of a few identified slums was apparently an ad hoc attempt to make the issue of slums disappear," he said.

"Over many years, ISS has systematically placed asylum seekers into many slums located across Hong Kong."

The welfare department declined to say how long the practice of accommodating asylum seekers in the makeshift rooms had been going on.

A previous investigation by the South China Morning Post found hundreds of asylum seekers living in squalor in outlying areas of the New Territories. Rooms had no toilets or fresh drinking water but were paid for and approved by the ISS-HK.

The ISS-HK receives HK$203 million from the government to pay for asylum seekers' welfare. The money, which is not given to them directly, covers rent, a pack of groceries every five days and other basic necessities.

The budget increased more than 30 per cent this year because of the number of new ISS-HK clients requiring assistance.



This article is now closed to comments

The issue looks more like greed and incompetence than race. But the series of articles by SCMP on the topic seem senselessly to have consistently turned it into a racial issue. The same problem may arise where it is not asylum seekers from South Asia who are involved but other people from other continents who are being exploited by the contractor. Government supervision should of course be adequate for the reason that it should ensure HK taxpayers' money is not being wasted and pocketed privately. But the amount of over $200m mentioned does appear to be a huge sum HK is being asked to pay. It could have helped many local residents.
When govt contracts a service like this out, there will always be a profit motive. Follow the money: who owns/controls the contractor and how are they connected to a senior govt official? Privatizing a legitimate govt function opens the door to corruption.
The government has a perfectly good reply to all this criticism. They just need to say that Asalym seekers in Hong Kong are housed better than 10% of the people in Hong Kong.
It does not look like Australia, Thailand and many other countries are doing any better than Hong Kong.
This is not good logic. The correct answer should be that we need to do something for all people in Hong Kong, asylum seekers and residents alike. Hong Kong is doing a lot that is right (providing some support and handling matters under the rule of law), but clearly more needs to be done. Australia and the UK also need to do better. Australia is not now accepting any refugees, and the UK does not appear to be doing much better.
From this story, it seems that the role of the ISS needs to be investigated. Are they dealing properly with the money that they handle?
As a city built on immigration, much of it illegal at the time, we need to make this a higher priority, realising that these people today are our parents yesterday.
The government has a perfectly good reply to all this criticism. They just need to say that Asalym seekers in Hong Kong are housed better than 10% of the people in Hong Kong.
It does not look like Australia, Thailand and many other countries are doing any better than Hong Kong.


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