Saturday, 12 September 2015

Of Escalator etiquette and refugee rights

Letter to the South China Morning Post:
How nice for us here in Hong Kong that we can debate whether to walk or “hold the rail” on MTR’s escalators.  That’s the luxury of a well-regulated and peaceful society.
Meantime, a world away, television shows us refugees and migrants struggling to make it to Europe as Europe struggles to handle them.
Less well reported is that we have about 9,900 refugees and asylum-seekers in Hong Kong, and many problems with they way we handle them.
On a recent visit to a remand centre in Hong Kong, I was told that many of the inmates were refugees who had (allegedly) committed a crime.  If so, it’s understandable.  They are given (I’m told) just $1,200 per month in food coupons.  Try to live on that in Hong Kong.  Yet the asylum seekers are forbidden to work.  If they do, and are found out, it’s off to the lock-up.
Consider the cost of detaining them.  According to the Correctional Services Department their staff of 6,899 looks after 8,284 prisoners  and remands.  Assuming an average CSD salary of around $15,000 per month, the monthly cost per prisoner in salaries alone is around $12,500, ten times the refugees' monthly living allowance.
The total cost per prisoner is much higher.  To salaries, we must add food, clothing, amortisation and other running costs of our 29 correctional facilities.
There must be a better way.  One is a substantial increase in the living allowance so that refugees are not forced to steal bread. Better still, allow them to work, while they await the outcome of their applications.  According to the refugee-rights organisation, Justice Centre Hong Kong, refugees prefer not to take handouts.  They would rather work to support themselves. 
Justice Centre summarises their plight: “These refugees stuck in Hong Kong can’t get asylum, can’t work and can’t leave”.
Piya Muqit of Justice Centre says ("Global Compassion", September 12), we need “policy change for refugees which can be considered the gold standard in the region.”.  We are far, far from that now.
Should we not spend more time trying to get to that “gold standard”, instead of agonising over escalator etiquette?
Yours, etc,
Later (14th Sep): some government official writes to the SCMP today in which he reveals that the number of accidents on the MTR escalators is 0.39 per million passengers. We know from earlier reports that only 43% of these are due to walking.  So that's 0.17 per million.  In percent that's 0.000017% accident rate.  Or, basically, zero. And of those, we speculate that most were minor scrapes and bruises.  For that, this fellow's department wages an online, print and TV campaign, costing lord know how much. All for an accident rate, from walking on escalators, that's pretty much effectively zero.