By Jessie Pang
HONG KONG (Reuters) -Panic buying in Hong Kong due to fears of a new COVID lockdown has hit the city’s refugees particularly hard because they can only spend their food allowance in supermarkets that regularly run out of supplies, aid workers and refugees say.
Hong Kong is on tenterhooks as it awaits a mass COVID testing campaign, with cases surging and many residents expecting a further lockdown in the city of more than 7 million people.
For Hong Kong’s 14,000 refugees, mostly from Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, the situation is particularly tough as they can only use the HK$1,200 ($153) worth of food tokens they get a month in one supermarket chain.
“We only have one place to go to, that’s ParknShop,” said a 68-year-old refugee from Africa, who declined to give his full name due to the sensitivity of the matter.
The only food he has recently been able to find on the empty shelves up and down the isles was rice, tinned tuna and sardines, he said.
The government’s Social Welfare Department said it is working with a social service group to arrange emergency relief and meet the basic needs of refugees. It said it received reports of four refugees having difficulties in sourcing food in the past week, adding that two of them have received help.
“We will keep in view the development of the pandemic and render assistance to NRCs (non-refoulement claimants) as appropriate,” the department said in an email.
The Refugee Concern Network found in a recent survey that 73% of 124 respondents said had difficulty in getting food from supermarkets over the week between Feb. 25 and March 4.
“When panic buying/stockpiling left food shelves empty in supermarkets as we saw over the past weeks, the community of 14,000 refugees and asylum seekers could only turn to charities or churches to simply put food on the table,” said Preston Cheung, senior advocacy and communications officer with Justice Centre Hong Kong, which helped with the survey.
“However, charities like us could only offer limited assistance … refugees and asylum seekers in Hong Kong are faced with food insecurity, alongside limited access to daily necessities.”
(Reporting by Jessie Pang;Editing by Robert Birsel and Louise Heavens)