Hong Kong: UNHCR's Subsidy Cut and Donation Black Hole

This post is part of our special coverage on Refugees.

Recently the United Nation Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Hong Kong is being questioned by several non-governmental bodies regarding its reduction in the day-to-day financial aid for refugees in Hong Kong, in spite of the huge amount of donation coming from private donors in Hong Kong.

The latest announcement made by the UNHCR Hong Kong office stated that they are going to cut off 80 percent of the monthly allowance, which currently supports 180 refugees with housing and daily living in Hong Kong. Refugees in Hong Kong were used to receiving HKD 3,000 (equivalent to USD 400) per month once their status had been confirmed, however after the cut, they will receive approximately only HKD 1,500 (USD 200) per month.

Global Survivor 2012 Workshop by Crossroad Foundation, A refugee support group in Hong Kong. (CC-BY 2.0)

Global Survivor 2012 Workshop by Crossroad Foundation, A refugee support group in Hong Kong. (CC-BY 2.0)

On the other hand, UNHCR collected over HKD 20 million in 2010 and HKD 16 million up to 19 September, 2011, in Hong Kong. So, where have these UNHCR millions gone?

Frustrated by the budget cut, refugee organization, Vision First, has issued an open letter to the UNHCR Sub-Office in Hong Kong and questioned UNHCR's policy.

A comment made by Cow Pies on March 5, under the Vision First news thread about the subsidy cut, expresses his anger over the UNHCR:

UNHCR is nothing but a fundraising *Black Hole*!!! There are reasons why their job should be an essential international service, yet they offer no accountability or transparency. Why should we take them for their word when we don’t trust any other international agency (United Nations excluded)? The more one digs for answers, the more questions are unearthed … It’s too convenient to say “We spend the 3.9 billion USD helping refugees worldwide” without backing this up with independent reports. Even the pie charts on their website show 88% “Refugee Programs” but the same charts don’t show salaries, housing allowance, insurance, officer traveling, entertainment, lobbying and other cost they most certainly have. Why should we trust them? They are in-house, unverified, unsupported and lacking basic monthly cost they obviously have. We realize that UNHCR was around before we were born, they will be around after we die and it cannot be changed overnight. Truth is, the way they treat refugees is disgraceful. After collected 27 million HKD in 2011, there is no justification for spending only 648,000 HKD and passing responsibility to HKSAR. They recognized these 180 refugees, but they continuously shirk their responsibility to care for them. Shame on UNHCR!!!

Refugees are not permitted to work in Hong Kong, due to the unsigned 1951 Refugee Convention by the government. Apart from a small group of people who receive financial support from churches or private donors, most of them rely on the UNHCR's monthly allowance.

Rents and the inflation rate in Hong Kong are sky rocketing and it is tough for anyone who has to live in the city on approximately HKD 1,500 a month, which is probably not even enough to pay for a cage room or a 150-square-foot subdivided unit in this expensive city.

Mr Refugee Beggar tells how hard his life is in Hong Kong through the blog of an organization which supports refugees and asylum seekers:

Now, we became the regular beggars! While sleeping we plan where we will go tomorrow for begging. Sometimes going for begging a little money to Mosque, Church, I.S.S. and to others NGOs whose behaviours are insulting and disrespectful and humiliating. They are treating refugees and others like a slave or third-class citizens. I swear you that this is the real punishment when you have no money to pay phone bill, electric bill, buying gas cylinder, hear cutting, photo copy, postal expenses, transport money for going to Mosque, to your lawyer, to attend the court and for many more expenses which are not paying by I.S.S. Some time even we have no two dollars for photo copy and spending day & night in the room as a self confinement for weeks.

Help please left a comment on February 24, to seek for help:

I am having 2 electric bill and water bill I cannot pay. ISS paying just small part. Not everything for me. My church also say no more money. The Final Notice from landlord write she cut electric and water tomorrow. Please help me! UNHCR Hong Kong cut my money from 1500 to 300 dollars. I ask them, but they don’t help me. Today I am very very desperate now. If landlord disconnect I cannot live in my room with no window.

Below is a series of videos produced by the HKSTV, on the story of an asylum-seeker, Mohammed, in Hong Kong. [The voice over is in Mandarin but Mohammed's interview is in English.]

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

This post is part of our special coverage on Refugees.

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