The Sex Culture at Christian Action (Part 10)
July 28, 2014
“In 2007 Mr. _________ _________ from _________ dated Miss. _________ _________ from _________, at the time a case worker at Christian Action. Their relationship was very open and I often met with them in Yaumatei at Papa’s Place. They got married in 2008 and moved to _________. They later broke up which put _________ in a difficult position.”
A friend of the above mentioned refugee made this statement based on knowledge of the relationship between his refugee friend and a Christian Action case worker (not one of the case workers mentioned in other blogs) who was bound to adhere to a code of conduct based on UNHCR rules categorically prohibiting intimate relations between staff and refugees.
The fact that in this case, a refugee and an NGO worker married subsequent to having entered into an intimate relationship while the case worker had been working at Christian Action and the vulnerable refugee received services from the same NGO at that time, is not a justification, but rather a mitigating factor for what started, developed unchecked and continued as unethical behaviour on the part of the above case worker.
Vision First takes the view that sexual relationships between refugees and Christian Action staff, that developed at the Chung King Mansions Service Centre for Refugees and Asylum Seekers, should be disclosed out of public interest with the aim of seeking to putting a stop to such practices that went unreported for years.
In any event, the past and present sexual relationships between refugees and staff at Christian Action will be gradually exposed to seek to ensure the importance of maintaining an ethical code of conduct. The relationships unveiled in this ongoing series will progressively reveal the full extent and landscape of behaviour that on the face of it appears to have breached ethical rules of conduct.
Such improprieties ultimately may have harmed not only refugee lovers, but also other refugee clients who may have been disadvantaged by a less than impartial delivery of services. In our view, there appears to be no excuse for Christian Action having allowed these improprieties to have occurred over so many years.
Question: How many asylum seekers felt compelled to abandon their true relationships and families, to betray themselves, their true partners, children and religious faith in order to secure temporary physical and psychological wellbeing by entering into a relationship with staff at Christian Action? What happened when refugee spouses later sought asylum in Hong Kong and approached the same NGO for assistance?
Answer: We leave the reader to form his or her view and any suggested answers are welcome.
The consequences of marriage between a refugee and an NGO case worker need to be thought out very carefully, especially in the event that such marriage might unfortunately end up in divorce. And the refugee in question then faces further problems that might include his or her future security.
The previous reports on “The Sex Culture at Christian Action” are available below:
To be continued.
Welfare benefits not enough for rent for citizens too
July 26, 2014
The rental struggle is much harsher for refugees who are not allowed to work and receive very limited support from charities and other organizations. Draconian policies compel refugees to beg around town to pay rent surpluses, or move into slums where health and safety are at risk.
Refugees receive 1500$ rent assistance when the cheapest subdivided rooms in rundown Kowloon buildings cost more than 2000$ a month. How are they expected to survive without risking jail for working illegally?
For many refugees Symon Wong had refused bail and pro bono lawyers close to Vision First went to the High Court and get bail for them there. This verdict puts the fear of being reprimanded in the heart of magistrates and reminds them to value the liberty of defendants until convicted.
Vision First is concerned that a degree of bias exists in the minds of certain magistrates who systematically deny refugee bail when, under comparable circumstances, citizens would be released.
Collective bargaining strengthens the Refugee Union
July 25, 2014
After five months, summer heat and humidity combined with Ramadan (the Muslim holy month of fasting) to test members’ attendance at the Refugee Union protest camp in Central. The protest has continued for 165 days during which refugees have demonstrated resolutely against unjust policies that make life unbearable for their community.
Summer days were so unpleasantly hot under the footbridge’s metal roof that only the most determined protesters carried on the struggle at a camp that might otherwise have appeared abandoned. And yet the community rallies enthusiastically in moments of need proving time and again that the common good comes before personal consideration.
At the last bimonthly meeting the Refugee Union stated its determination to support the camp until the authorities announce the contract renewal with ISS-HK, at which time a decision will be made on a future actions. If the authorities make no concessions and retain welfare services unchanged, it is unlikely that hard-pressed refugees will accept such an outcome as unavoidable.
These are not men and women of leisure with nothing to do. Rather they are individuals struggling to survive economically through diverse and unorthodox survival strategies without the right to work. They are forcefully unemployed husbands and wives who manage homes and care for children under the most intolerable conditions imposed on any minority social group.
The fact that each day more than 20 members support the camp is indicative of the union’s determination to generate solutions against all odds and despite the culture of rejection that attempts to crush their hope and spirit. In six months, a disenfranchised and resourceless Refugee Union successfully improved many members’ living conditions and brought greater awareness to their plight.
There are daily victories in which unionized refugees achieve goals that were unthinkable a few months ago. For years a refugee had been denied utility and transport assistance by an ISS-HK case worker who explained, “You don’t get it because you managed many years by yourself”, as if welfare assistance were determined by begging skills. Interestingly, by tapping the red Refugee Union card on the desk, he had the denial of assistance instantly revoked. Meanwhile another single members enjoys 3300$ rent assistance even without signing the monthly contract.
This week a homeless refugee family with a 3 year-old girl found shelter in the blue tents after their pleas for assistance fell on deaf ears at ISS-HK. As in previous cases, these desperate refugees approached the camp for advice and were warmly welcomed and provided with anything that was available. Following the Refugee Union’s intervention, ISS-HK confirmed a guesthouse room yesterday. The level of service provide by ISS-HK seems to relate directly to the level of dynamic and persuasive protest.
While still in its infancy, the Refugee Union is dedicated to protecting member’s interests and improving living conditions through better services provision by whichever contractor the SWD appoints. More refugees will gradually appreciate that it is legal for them to unionize and it is illegal for anyone to prevent their association. Collective bargaining might be the advantage refugees were missing.
Breaking the rent assistance barrier
July 24, 2014
Hong Kong Government remains tight lipped about the renewal the Social Welfare Department (SWD) contract for welfare services to refugees due to expire in the coming weeks. The authorities generally prioritize outsourcing over the direct provision of services and it is said that the SWD does not have the logistic and human resource capacity to deploy its own operation.
The reality is such that no organization seems interested in competing for the SWD’s “Project of provision of Assistance-in-kind for Asylum-Seekers and Torture Claimants” as it is currently implemented, without it being broken up into smaller areas for example, which ensures that ISS-HK effectively remains the sole bidder at the time of renewal.
The Refugee Union reports that ISS-HK case workers will soon renew their contracts and current food suppliers are renovating shops ahead of qualifying inspections. In light of the above it is likely that the SWD will renew its service contract with ISS-HK which inexplicably remains a confidential document not to be shared with the public.
If the contract remains secret, it is impossible to know if amendments will be made to improve service delivery within the scope of the “Provision of Assistance for asylum seekers and torture claimants”, namely 1500$ for rent (half for children), 1200$ for food, 300$ for utilities and about 200$ for travelling costs. Although the key figures will not change, directions might be given to broaden the price grid (who can receive more) and the flexibility with which concessions are made (how much pressure is resisted).
To illustrate this point, it appears that members of the Refugee Union enjoy higher rent assistance than non-unionized refugees, which might be evidence of more effective pressure tactics. This has revealed that, for example, the 1500$ rent assistance is a guideline that can be persuasively overcome by repeated demands, which regrettably puts less assertive individuals at a disadvantage.
Rather than begging from charities, or risking jail by working illegally, refugees are advised to strive for longterm solution. In other words, instead of putting a hand out to collect money from churches, refugees should bring their ISS-HK case workers to task and demand that their basic needs be met in full, as constitutionally required by Hong Kong Government.
As long as refugees take the path of least resistance, that is finding money elsewhere to avoid confrontation with ISS-HK, the depth of their destitution and despair will not be grasp by the authorities. It is reported that the Refugee Union has developed effective strategies to secure levels of rent assistance that are unheard of in the broader refugee community. Since all refugees are banned from working, there is no reason why all refugees should not be enjoying better assistance.
The struggle to pay rent is undoubtedly the greatest source of anxiety for refugees living from hand to mouth. To have ISS-HK pay rent in full should be every individual’s objective. It is noteworthy that over the past months, possibly since the protest movement started in February, dozens of refugees have been settled in guesthouse rooms valued about 7500$ a month, or 6000$ more than the rent allowance.
Families are doing much better than before. The Refugee Union reports of families with two children renting apartments worth more than 6000$ and families with three children renting apartments worth 8000$ to 9000$. These are facts that the entire refugee community should consider carefully before working illegally to pay rent and thus risk being arrested and jailed for 15 months.
Evidence suggests that ISS-HK case workers have more discretion in granting assistance than generally perceived. Refugees who put forward a persuasive argument and show a determination to stand their ground on principle could celebrate with the single father and child who secured 3600$ in rent assistance instead of the 2250$ guidelines. Breaking the barriers takes effort, but is certainly worth it.
The Sex Culture at Christian Action (Part 9)
July 22, 2014
“In 2008 Mr. __________ _________ from _________ had a relationship with Ms. _________ _________ then manager of Christian Action. Their relationship continued for more than a year and I know many facts, details and history that need not be divulged at this time.”
A friend of the above mentioned refugee made this statement based on knowledge of a relationship between his refugee friend and a Christian Action manager which was an open secret in the community.
Vision First asks: why is this relationship only coming to light seven years later?
With seemingly an absence of enforcement of the code of ethical conduct, an environment appears to have developed at Christian Action where improper sexual relations were apparently tolerated, despite an official blanket prohibition. It remains to be seen if any employee or volunteer was ever terminated for such improprieties.
At a time when many refugees feel strengthened by the supportive Refugee Union, victims and witnesses have finally begun to step forward as whistleblowers in the belief that by exposing past and present affairs that improper practices that seriously impact the refugee community will come to an end and be prevented in the future.
Despite Christian Action having initiated legal action against Vision First and the Refugee Union, more and more refugee whistleblowers are standing undaunted on a strong foundation forged on principle and integrity and will no longer allow complaints to be suppressed. In the present environment of empowerment and self-reliance, refugees themselves offer support and solidarity to whistleblowers who are now better able to gather the courage to expose abuses.
In the past, refugees submitted helplessly to abuse, absent any protection and anonymity should they step forward as whistleblowers. They kept their mouths shut in justifiable fear of retribution and punishment. Today, empowered refugees seek justice and are not afraid to make disclosure of NGO workers who might have taken advantage of their position by overstepping the mark and seemingly ignoring both the letter and the spirit of the code of conduct. Abuses that before were submissively accepted will not go unreported.
It appears that Christian Action reacts to such complaints in a particular way. At least four whistleblower was served with a letter from Christian Action denying further services to that asylum seeker until legal proceedings against Vision First and the Refugee Union are concluded. Another refugee family complained to Vision First that Christian Action cut them off from financial assistance after they made a public disclosure that Christian Action discouraged them from protesting.
Any organisation that banishes highly vulnerable refugees and denies services to those who voice complaints, and even taking legal action against them, appears to result in a silencing of legitimate complaints and concerns. This in turn appears to discourage and dent the fundamental constitutional freedom of expression. This also has the potential to drive complainants underground and silences potential whistleblowers. Banning dissent and suppressing justifiable freedom of expression might ultimately end up being less effective than confronting and resolving complaints in the first place.
Vision First believes that refugees have the right to voice their complaints without fear of being penalised and are entitled to whistle blower protections. Just because refugees are indigent, destitute and highly vulnerable, does not mean they are to be denied their rights to be heard and their opinions expressed.