Recent news of South Asians, supposedly torture claimants, robbing a mother and daughter understandably sparked distrust of and reprobation towards refugees in general, whose poverty and lack of integration mark exclusion from society.
While the violent crime must be condemned and punished, one should be reminded that poverty is inflicted on asylum seekers by unjust policies aimed at preventing social inclusion. The consequences are alienation and detachment from a community that rejected from the start.
Further, it is well known that when people are institutionally prevented from achieving a normal life, depending on their will to escape their circumstances and available opportunities, they may resort to crimes to survive. This direct, causal connection is always worthy of attention.
There is a hint of deception when access to asylum is offered without access to adequate support. Weaker individuals will be tempted by crime, when alternative and realistic means of survival are denied by a failed support system that is less than humanitarian.
It is now recognized that rent allowance and food provisions by SWD-ISS are insufficient. It is outrageous that refugees are plunged into destitution by the very program that aimed to prevent it. From rent to groceries, from electricity bills to cooking gas, from travel cost to phone bills … nothing has changed. Are the covert objectives sinister?
Refugees face dire circumstances that endanger their survival. It is shameful that they are left in destitution only to be condemned when falling to crime – and it should be noted that engaging in unlawful work is a crime. Whether refugees work, steal or sell drugs, they become criminals. Paradoxically, they received lighter sentences selling drugs and stealing, than taking up jobs!
Could this be asylum rejection by entrapment? The situation is not unlike parking expensive cars in ghettos to lure opportunistic thieves. In the “Broken Window Trap”, police place a mobile phone inside a smashed window to make an easy arrest. It’s an effective, but highly questionable sting.
When policies drive persons to commit offenses that they would otherwise have been unlikely to commit – entrapment becomes a possible defense against criminal liability. There is no mitigation for robbing a mother and daughter, yet Hong Kong’s asylum policy is wrought with ethical concerns.
Shatin Magistracy court yesterday sentenced Pakistani Waqir to eighteen months imprisonment for breach of condition of stay. He was arrested while trying to earn some badly needed cash. The Immigration Ordinance (Section 38AA) condemns torture claimants to a life of failed welfare and unreliable begging. In reality, these two strategies come up disappointingly short.
The law is clear. Section 38AA states that “a person in respect of whom a removal order is in force, must not take any employment, whether paid or unpaid.” In other jurisdictions working without a visa would be an administrative offence, punished by a fine. In Hong Kong it is a serious crime punishable by three years in jail and a 50,000$ fine. Are such sentences just in a failed welfare environment?
How often must refugees work part-time for 300$ a day to meet their most basic needs?
Let’s put ourselves in their shoes to calculate a subsistence budget:
- My rent costs 600$ over 1200$ paid by ISS = 2 days’ work
- My electricity cost 300$ over 190$ paid by ISS = 1 day’s work
- My food is worth 500$ of 1060$ ISS valuation = 2 day’s work
- My groceries cost an extra 600$ a month = 2 days’ work
- ISS toiletries lack essentials like shaving creams, etc. = 1 day’s work
- ISS does not pay for my cooking gas, cost 300$ = 1 day’s work
- ISS doesn’t pay for phone and other costs of 300$ = 1 day’s work
- ISS does not pay for my travelling costs of 300$ = 1 days’ work
- ISS does not provide cloths that cost 300$ = 1 day’s work
- If I had children this would be a much longer list!
We submit that refugees in Hong Kong should be allowed to work 12 days a month just to make up for what a failed welfare system effectively denies them. Until basic financial and material needs are objectively and fairly met, it is a miscarriage of justice to jail refugees who have no viable survival option. Anyone who disagrees is warmly invited to spend a week in a refugee ghetto without cash.
Hong Kong government should consider issuing “Twelve day Working Passes” to single refugees (families would need more) until the assistance package offered by ISS is enhanced to genuinely reflect realistic cost and actual needs. Offering half of a subsistence budget is shameful to all involved!
On our way to the slums, police CID stopped our refugee friends for a document check. Tension is high in the villages along the light rail, after cowardly criminals robbed a mother and child a few nights ago. Three South Asian suspects were arrested. Their torture claimant status complicates matters, as these violent crimes lead to the racial profiling of the entire refugee community.
Refugees strongly condemn these terrible crimes and trust that, upon convictions, the perpetrators will pay dearly for targeting defenseless victims. The police report a series of similar robberies and are concerned that criminals will strike again for easy gains. There are criminal elements in every sector of society. On the dark fringes, desperation is certainly more keenly felt.
To be an asylum seeker in Hong Kong is to be excluded. Excluded from employment and adequate welfare. Excluded from society that denies respect and dignity. Excluded from hope that the future will be better. Excluded from self-actualization after the system fails to support. This overwhelming exclusion is the result of government policies that enforce the precarization and destitution of all refugees.
On the way back from the slums, we met Vincent who illustrates the other side of the coin. A law-abiding citizen since he arrived from West Africa in 2003, he lives in abject destitution. Recognized a UNHCR refugee in 2009, he has no right to work and cannot get back on track. He misses his family and resents the authorities that perpetuate separation. Vincent demands a durable solution, one that will end his misery. But he’s missing a champion.
The same cruel policies that alienated the above criminals are pounding Vincent’s humanity. With the aim of avoiding ‘a magnet effect’, the government is punishing the innocent who should be protected. There are 2,000 individual like Vincent (assuming a probable 1/3 recognition rate) who would face death in their country. They languish without hope. They are being robbed of a future despite the constitutional duties of Hong Kong government.
Alienated and excluded, these people are losing trust in Hong Kong’s justice and rule of law.
A half-hour minibus ride from Yuen Long are the Mai Po marshlands. With proper foundations great estates have been developed, such as Fairview Park and Pam Springs. It’s quite a different story when landlord fail to drain the land and build on waterlogged soil. The environment might be good for fish farms, but not for humans.
In fragrant violation of land use, an exploitative landlord found a new source of income when raising gold fish became unprofitable. With the conniving assistance of ISS-HK, the Slum Lord turned this property around. It is no longer an abandoned structure, but a ghetto earning 35,000 HK$ in illicit profit from government rental assistance to refugees.
At first glance on a beautiful sunny day, one could easily be mistaken. A grand metal gate ushers visitors into a spacious, tidy courtyard where children love to play. If you venture any further, however, the underbelly of the beast reveals its dark secrets. The stench is unbearable. Insects sting viciously. Toilets don’t flush and every sink is as blocked as the drains they connect to.
It is heart-wrenching to witness the conditions that 31 refugees – including a dozen young children – endure due to ISS-HK’s connivance with an unscrupulous slum lord. Rooms cost the full allowance, but since deposits are not required, this compound is full. It is an absolute certainty that this refugee ghetto would fail the inspection of any agency – except the Social Welfare Department, it appears.
In November 2012, ISS-HK filed the Financial Statement for the year ending 31 March 2012. It should be noted this cursory analysis refers to figures that were current eighteen months ago. The March 2013 financial statement will be filed on 23 Nov 2013 and will be available through a 52$ company search for public scrutiny.
Interestinly, Appendix R shows expenses incurred to care for asylum seekers and refugees in China on behalf of UNHCR. This 5 million dollar project is reported in four groups detailing support to those who needed food; food and shelter; family assistance or only health assistance. Group 8VN is an interesting item: International NGO Overhead Costs. This is probably a 5% service fee for the project. Reasonable enough.
For this program ISS-HK shows sufficient transparency and accountability to UNHCR.
By contrast, the financial statement offers no expenditure breakdown for the HK$ 149,455,908 subvention from SWD for the provision of assistance for asylum seekers and torture claimants (p.53). Note that number 4 (top of p.22) is oddly missing in the statement. The deferred income (p.34) of 10 million indicates that SWD advances funding in installments to ensure ISS-HK has sufficient cash.
The subvention of HK$ 149,455,908 was not spent entirely on refugees. There were other expenses:
- $ 21,082,889 for salaries (average 17,600$ a month for 100 staff)
- $ 1,107,217 for MPF (effectively also salaries)
- $ 1,250,546 in office cost (average 34,000$ per month per branch)
- $ 1,652,113 in office rent (Government doesn’t pay for it)
- $ 1,067,035 in other miscellaneous cost (acceptable enough)
On 20 Jan 2012 Immigration stated that the outstanding torture claims were 6447. It can be assumed there were a minimum of 500 people of concern to UNHCR who did not lodge torture claims. It can be reasonably assumed that at least 85% of all these claimants received assistance from ISS-HK – equivalent to 6000 service users.
For the year ended 31 Mar 2012, the financial statement indicates that HK$ 123,162,802 were spent on program expenses. This translates into 6000 ISS clients receiving 20,527$ a year or just 1,710$ a month.
Considering the prevailing rent assistance, at the time, of 1000$ and wholesale food valuation of 600$, we aren’t far off the mark. It should be noted that case workers are paid 17,600$ to distribute services worth 1,710$ to destitute refugees. Could ISS-HK staff demonstrate how to survive on 57$ a day?
Miss. Panares says she cares about the well-being of refugees. She could then answer these questions:
- How much are you paid to serve refugees?
- How much did you personally donate to assist refugees?
- Why does ISS-HK have $36,112,383 cash in the bank?
- Why wasn’t this money used to alleviate refugee suffering?
- How much did ISS-HK spend on refugees that was not subvented by SWD?
- (The financial statement bears out the theory such amount is zero!)
A cursory analysis of these figures confirm that ISS-HK is not a charitable organization, if *charity* is understood as something of one’s own given to help the needy. Instead, ISS-HK is a government contractor. The statement shows that staff received $22,190,106 to carry out a service performed with little benevolence and compassion towards refugees. The pounding on the door might be from desperate refugees today, but will it be from enforcement agents tomorrow?
It is reported that slum lords in Ping Che and Sheung Shui have stopped signing new contracts. Refugees have been notified that current tenancy agreements will not be renewed. Apparently ISS-HK is gradually closing down refugee ghettos. What’s the rush? Feeling the heat? Why would ISS-HK do this if no offence was committed by segregating refugees in ghettos?
Has ISS taken advice about fraud?
Section 16A of the Theft Ordinance was enacted to provide the prosecutions in Hong Kong with a straightforward means of prosecution fraudulent schemes resulting in financial or proprietary benefit to the fraudster, while putting the victim’s financial or proprietary interests at risk. ISS-HK might have learnt this offence is punishable by 14 years imprisonment.
Has ISS taken advice about deception?
Section 16A(3) of the Theft Ordinance defines deceit, whether deliberate or reckless, by words or conduct, whether by any act or omission, as to fact or as to law, including a deceit relating to the past, the present or the future and a deceit as to the intentions of the person practising the deceit or of any other person.
Has ISS taken advice about conspiracy to defraud?
An agreement to commit the statutory offence of fraud may still be prosecuted as a conspiracy to defraud at common law. It has been noted that a conspiracy to defraud is an agreement to practice a fraud on somebody based on either dishonestly imperiling the economic interest of another or dishonestly acting to the prejudice of another’s rights. It may be directed against both private and public victims (HKSAR?)
If slum lords are worried, should ISS-HK be concerned about its involvement?
For an answer, let’s examine another refugee ghetto … burn, baby, burn!!!
Peter was released on 500$ bail at Kowloon City Court. Since legal proceedings have commenced, Vision First is no longer at liberty to comment on the case. Suffice it to say that Peter pleaded “Not Guilty” and a trial day was set for 4 December 2013. On that day the long relationship between Peter and ISS-HK – going back to June 2006 – will be exposed in meticulous detail.
Before trial, it might dawn on ISS-HK that having protesters arrested is one matter, while sending them before a judge is quite another. Why? From a close working relationship with UNHCR, ISS-HK might have learnt that they always dropped charges to avoid refugees testifying in court about failed services for the press to report exhaustively. The wise UNHCR fox knew better than becoming a prosecution witness. That foresight appears to be missing.
There is much to say about what happened to Peter’s family. Alas, owing to the upcoming trial we are advised to give no hints to the prosecution. Yesterday, Vision First released Peter from detention and secured a seasoned legal team for the defense. Today, we assure his family that the darkest hour is over. The trial will deal a blow to the arrogance that alienated ISS-HK from the refugee community at large. This promises to be interesting stuff!
The trial will dramatically expose the policies and attitude of a so-called-charity that consistently fails refugees in a colossal way. ISS-HK deliberately fails to take action to ease the plight of thousands, despite a HK$ 396,877,881 budget. It is troubling that last year ISS-HK returned HK$ 60,000,000 to SWD, while denying Peter HK$ 2000 a month to keep a roof over his young children. There is no wonder refugees are pounding doors in desperation! Where else can they turn?
ISS-HK’s priority clearly is not to assist refugees and prevent them from becoming destitute. Instead it is to limit and reduce assistance to the most vulnerable and under-privileged human beings in Hong Kong.
Vision First will ensure that Peter’s trial exposes the rot and brings justice to the real victims.
The Togolese family we reported was losing their home, is in trouble with the police. On Wednesday night, Peter was arrested on suspicion of criminal damage after ISS-HK reported that a 3500$ door lock was broken. Details are scarce until the charges are made public this morning when Peter will appear before a judge at Kowloon City Court. There are reasons to believe that ISS-HK exaggerated the complaint against an exasperated refugees – just one of thousands they fail to assist effectively.
A witness reported that Peter approached the ISS Prince Edward office after his case worker, Ms. Rhoda Despabiladeras, was rude to him over the phone. The underlying problem built up for months as the family struggled with 5600$ actual rent, while ISS-HK contributed only 3600$ in rent assistance. Circumstances like these cause a mental and psychological strain that can understandably drive people crazy, when taking into account that refugees cannot work.
Yesterday a refugee mother reporter that, when begging for more help, her case worker warned, “You should not rely only on ISS. You must find help in other places. We cannot help you with everything”. This is the crux of the matter. The system expects refugees to beg for significant amounts of money and for a sustained period of time stretching into years. Peter’s family of four required 4000$ above welfare assistance to survive each month. No wonder Peter was distressed after seven years!
Hong Kong’s asylum system is designed to fail refugees and land them into trouble.
Peter’s wife Priscilla is very upset. Yesterday at Mongkok police station, she was denied access to her husband. The officer in charge refused to talk to her or provide details of the evidence and accusation. On the phone with Peter she gathered these facts. On Wednesday afternoon, ISS case worker Rhoda refused to meet the family’s needs. She was downright rude to Peter, who then decided to speak to her face to face. At ISS Prince Edward, the front door was locked. Peter wasn’t allowed to enter or complain.
Priscilla reports that the denial of service infuriated her husband. He knocked on the door unsuccessfully. He knocked harder. In frustration he kicked the door and allegedly it broke. Details are unclear, but Peter was still unable to enter. He lay outside the door refusing to move until ISS provided the assistance he needed. The police were called and eventually Peter was taken into custody. He was held in a police cell Thursday and will hear the evidence and charges this morning.
It is understood that Peter will plead not guilty. He believes he is a victim of professional negligence and discrimination by ISS-HK. Over the years it has driven his family to despair. This is an opportunity to expose in the court of law the physical hardship and mental suffering refugees endure while seeking asylum in Hong Kong. Since June 2006 and for over seven years, Peter never received sufficient assistance to prevent himself, his wife and two young children from plunging into destitution. Day after day, year after year the struggle for survival has stolen both their dignity and sanity.
The refugee community gathers around Peter’s family to ensure the TRUTH is exposed.
08:19am Update: Law firm Ho Tse Wai agrees to represent Peter even pro bono if necessary
The complex ordinance that safeguard the rule of law are freely available online at the Hong Kong Legal Information Institute. A casual, lay person’s perusal of these legal instruments is insightful for readers genuinely interested in what is illegal about ISS-HK’s ghetto policy for refugees. Here are a few basic and non-comprehensive points worth consideration:
Land Use Change
Changes in use of land and buildings are mainly regulated by the Town Planning Ordinance (Cap 131), land leases, Buildings Ordinance (Cap 123) and the deeds of mutual covenant. When there is a breach of lease conditions by the lot owner the Lands Department will play the role of lease enforcement. In respect to the Buildings Ordinance Section 25, two types of situations will have to be dealt with where a farm is converted into a residence: a) illegal building works, commonly known as unauthorised building works not exempted from approval; b) change in use of buildings, material changes in use like from animal shed to home. Any person who fails to comply will be guilty of an offence and liable to a level 5 fine and imprisonment for 1 year.
Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG)
The Gas Safety Ordinance defines certain installations (including domestic LPG storage sites) as Notifiable Gas Installations (NGIs). In general, an LPG storage installation that contains more than 130 liters (3 large cylinders) must apply for construction approval to the Gas Authority. (Cap 51B Gas Safety (Gas Supply) Regulation reg 6). Any person who fails to comply will be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine of 25,000 and imprisonment for 6 months. Further, gas cylinder can never be placed outside in the open air.
The portable fire extinguisher is a fire service installation (FSI). Pursuant to Regulation 8 of the Fire Service (Installations and Equipment) Regulations, Cap 95B, it stipulates that the owner of any fire service installation or equipment which is installed in any premises shall keep such fire service installation or equipment in efficient working order at all times; and has such fire service installation or equipment inspected by an RFSIC at least once in every 12 months. Anyone who breaches this regulation commits will be guilty of an offence. A person who fails to inspect fire extinguishers will be liable on conviction.
Fire Safety Issues
If a change in use of building involves fire safety issues or poses fire hazards, the Fire Services Department will also, in accordance with the Fire Services Ordinance (Cap 95) and taking into account the fire hazard present, consider serving a fire hazard abatement notice to request the abatement of the fire hazard. Persons failing to comply with any of the requirements thereof, shall be guilty of an offence.
Pursuant to section 30(1) of the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap 132), if any premises are without, or without sufficient latrine accommodation or that the latrine accommodation provided therein is ineffective or of a type which is unsuitable having regard to the circumstances of the case, the government authority may cause a notice to be served upon the owner of such premises. Any person who fails to comply shall be guilty of an offence.
Pursuant to section 27(1A) of the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap 132), if there are any premises any article capable of causing accumulation of water which allows the breeding of mosquitoes, the government authority may, by a notice served on the person responsible for the premises, require him to take such steps within such time as may be specified in the notice to prevent the breeding of mosquitoes upon the premises. Any person who fails to comply shall be guilty of an offence.
Sewers and drains by soil or waste
Pursuant to section 7(1) of the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap 132), the government authority may cause a notice to be served on the owner or occupier of land adjoining any place in which is situated a public sewer, drain or drainage works requiring him to channel or embank the land as to prevent soil or waste being carried into such public sewers. Any person who fails to comply shall be guilty of an offence.
A tenancy agreement will contain what the landlord and the tenant have agreed to be their rights and duties. In addition, in common law, certain rights and duties will be implied in a tenancy even if the tenancy agreement does not expressly provide for the same. The general legal principle is that such implied covenants will automatically apply to a tenancy, unless there are express and contrary provisions in the tenancy agreement.
To report these and other offences, speak confidentially with Vision First!