Refugees take protests to ISS-HK head office

“Shame on ISS! Shame on ISS!” echoed across the packed streets of Hong Kong’s Wan Chai district today as 40 members of the Refugee Union and their supporters staged a protest outside the head office of International Social Services (ISS-HK). Legislator ‘Longhair’ Leung Kwok-hung of the League of Social Democrats (LSD) was there to show support and lead the chanting.

“We will not give up this struggle until the government and Department of Social Welfare takes back control of refugee welfare services from ISS-HK,” said Refugee Union spokesperson Raymond.

After making itself heard in the street outside, the demonstration moved up to the sixth floor where the ISS-HK offices are located.

The protesters were angry that the High Court yesterday served an injunction in favour of ISS-HK to ban protesters from occupying its offices in Mong Kok and Tsuen Wan. An occupation by members of the Refugee Union began on Tuesday 11 February and lasted for one week, generating a lot of media attention for this struggle and the union’s demands for an investigation into corrupt practices by ISS-HK.

“ISS thinks they have evicted the protesters, but this campaign will clearly continue until ISS itself is evicted by losing its lucrative government contract,” said Vincent Kolo of Socialist Action, which co-hosted the Wan Chai demonstration.

Refugee protesters including seven protest leaders who are named in the court ruling are now banned from entering ISS-HK welfare offices without written permission. In addition to its court action against the protesters, ISS-HK mounted a propaganda counter-offensive through its website, rejecting claims that its food supplies are manipulated to undercut the legally prescribed sum of HK$1,200 per month per person. The company’s claims were swiftly dismissed as “more lies” by the Refugee Union.

Seven days occupation

On the seventh day of its round-the-clock occupation of social welfare offices in Hong Kong’s Prince Edward district, the newly formed Refugee Union representing hundreds of refugees, was ordered by the High Court to end its action and leave the premises.

ISS-HK, the aid group which is the focus of the protests, went to the High Court on Monday 17 February, to obtain an injunction against the occupation. In yet another example of the class-bias of the judicial system, the judgement also prevents those who took part in the protest from entering ISS-HK welfare offices without written permission. ISS-HK is a subsidiary of International Social Services, a Swiss-based NGO, which combines the roles of “aid group” and limited company. In 2006 it won the lucrative HK$203 million per year government contract to administer aid to around 5,000 refugees in Hong Kong.

“This court decision is the latest in a long line of pro-corporate rulings,” said Sally Tang Mei-ching of Socialist Action, who is active in support of the occupation. “The dockworkers faced similar anti-working class rulings during their strike last year.”

At meetings on Monday evening the members of the Refugee Union decided to continue their potest with new demonstrations planned for today.

"Not the end of our struggle"

“This is not the end of our struggle, we will just change the tactics,” said Raymond, one of the occupiers. “The court action shows that ISS-HK is feeling the pressure of our campaign and they should get ready to feel even more pressure in future,” he declared.

The occupiers’ complaints against ISS-HK range from manipulation of monthly food allowances to substandard housing and other malpractices. Last week a formal complaint was filed with the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), to demand that ISS be investigated.

“The refugees involved in the occupation deserve the full support of Hong Kong grassroots people and workers,” said Sally Tang Mei-ching. “We have heard many individual complaints about ISS-HK failing in its responsibilities. We understand the anger of this very discriminated and we are inspired by their courage and determination to fight for a fair deal,” she said.

Legislator ‘Longhair’ Leung Kwok-hung of the LSD (League of Social Democrats) visited the occupation last Friday evening and pledged to set up meetings with authorities including ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption). With more than 60 protesters gathering at the Prince Edward occupation last Friday, the Chinese-language press – including Apple Daily and TVB – made a long awaited appearance.

Government’s manic outsourcing

Socialist Action supports the occupation and demands for refugees’ rights to be strengthened. We oppose the government’s manic outsourcing of refugee services to agencies like ISS – all welfare provision should be under democratic public sector control. Socialist Action members assisted the occupation and the newly formed refugee union in a number of practical ways – with loudspeakers, banners and placards in Chinese, and contacting the Chinese language media. More support is needed and if the pressure is stepped up in the coming period the refugees can win concessions from the government. This would represent a victory for all workers and oppressed people in Hong Kong.

The message from the Wan Chai protest is that the struggle against ISS-HK continues after the occupation, with new tactics to be thrashed out in coming days. The occupation achieved a great deal in putting this struggle on the map. This has strengthened the determination of the Refugee Union, more than 100-strong, to continue its fight for justice.

A new facebook page has been set up for the Refugee Union, to help publicise its coming activities. Please “like” and “share”.

Committee for a workers' International publications

p128

p248 01

p304 02

imgFooter1