Protest against new attack on refugee rights

Protest in Wanchai, Hong Kong, demanding fair rent policy for refugees.

Welfare contractor ISS imposes new rent policy

Socialist Action reporters

Around 100 refugees and supporters protested at the headquarters of ISS-HK on 13 February, against a new rent policy that makes it more difficult for refugees to find a home. The new policy has been slammed as bureaucratic and obstructive.

International Social Services (ISS), to which the Social Welfare Department outsources its asylum seekers’ support service, recently revised its rental policy. Refugees are required to provide a local guarantor, a HKID card holder, when they sign new or renew rental contracts.

Socialist Action co-organised the protest with the Refugee Union, and legislator Leung Kwok-Hung (Longhair) came to show support. Protesters chanted “No guarantor” “We want the right to live!” “Stop racism!” and “Shame on ISS!”

Protest in Wan Chai, Hong Kong, demanding fair rent policy for refugees.

Expensive housing

Under the current policy, ISS only provides HK$1,500 per month in housing allowance for refugees. This is paid directly to the landlord – ISS never gives money directly to refugees. In many cases, refugees have to cover the excess amount themselves. Adding to that difficulty, refugees now have to provide the details of a local resident as a guarantor. Most refugees understandably have few social connections outside of the refugee community. Such bureaucratic measures only serve to increase their agony, attacking their right to housing.

Hong Kong has the most expensive housing in the world, a fact confirmed by most global housing surveys. HK$1,500 is not even enough to afford a sub-divided unit. According to a recent Reuters report, the median rent for a sub-divided unit in Hong Kong was HK$4,200 in 2015. This is for units with an average floor space of 62.4 square feet (half the size of a standard car park space). The rents for such units are increasing at around 10 percent each year – faster than rents in the luxury housing market.

Right to work

Clearly, HK$1,500 per month is totally inadequate to cover the high rents in Hong Kong. Many refugees are forced to live in converted pigsties or makeshift slums in the New Territories. Refugees do not have the right to work in Hong Kong, yet their meagre allowance is not enough to provide them with safe and decent housing. This forces many to live in debt or work illegally.

The smear campaign by the government labels refugees as “criminals”, but it is in fact the criminal negligence of the government’s Social Welfare Department and its outsourced agency that should be blamed.

Socialist Action demands:

  • Repeal the guarantor policy!
  • No racism, stop discriminating refugees!
  • Increase the housing allowance now!
  • United struggle by refugees and grassroots Hong Kong workers against austerity – make the billionaires pay!

Read more

• Hong Kong: Smear campaign against refugees
• Edward Snowden thanks Hong Kong refugees for their courage
• Hong Kong: Refugees fighting an unfair system