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.