The local branch of an international aid agency has come under fire after a homeless Yemeni man with refugee status in Hong Kong claimed he was abused by one of its officials.
According to Mareai Ahmed Hamood Qasem, a representative of the International Social Service in Hong Kong (ISSHK) told him: "We cannot help you. Go and sleep in the McDonald's."
Qasem also claimed that another ISSHK official asked his pregnant Filipino wife why she thought she deserved the agency's help.
The ISSHK was established to assist people with personal or social issues who have a problem between two or more countries. It rejected Qasem's claim he was told, "Go and sleep in the McDonald's", calling it "fabricated and baseless".
"First, as a professional case worker, this is a statement that will not be given by the staff, as we are all fully cognizant of the difficulties of the clients in Hong Kong and would not say or do anything that would aggravate their emotional, psychological or practical dilemmas," said Adrielle Panares, migrants programme director for the ISSHK.
Panares also insisted that the conversations between Qasem and the official were in the presence of the case worker assigned for his wife and a senior case worker of ISSHK, who could "attest to the fact that these allegations were unfounded".
Qasem sought asylum in Hong Kong in 2007, and was recognised as a refugee by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 2010.
He said he gained refugee status as family and cultural problems put his life in danger in Yemen, which has been rocked by civil and political unrest in recent years.
In January, budgetary constraints forced the UNHCR in Hong Kong to cut its HK$1,500 monthly payments to refugees to just HK$300, with the Hong Kong government stepping in to make up the shortfall.
However, the financial deficit meant Qasem was unable to pay his rent and was homeless by the end of January. As a refugee, he cannot legally work in the city and he has no financial support from family or friends. His wife is pregnant and unemployed.
"I pleaded for help but was dismissed by [a staff member] of the ISSHK, who said, 'We cannot help you. Go and sleep in the McDonald's. Have a good night,'" he said.
"From that day I lived at the [local refugee non-government organisation] Vision First shelter for seven months, but it's male-only and not suitable for a family."
Qasem said another ISSHK official told his pregnant Filipino wife, "There are hundreds of maids getting pregnant in Hong Kong. Why should we help you?"
A McDonald's spokesman said the chain only offered food and beverage outlets, not places to stay.
The ISSHK said it was still trying to help the couple find a place to live, but could only do this with their full co-operation.