Tough time for Hong Kong's refugees as Covid-19 panic buying leaves supermarket shelves empty

Near empty shelves at a supermarket in Hong Kong.
PHOTO: Reuters

HONG KONG - Panic buying in Hong Kong on fears of a new Covid-19 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-19 testing campaign with cases surging and many residents expecting a new lockdown in the city of more than 7 million people.

For Hong Kong's 14,000 refugees, the situation is particularly tough as they can only use the HK$1,200 (S$208) 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 things he has recently been able to find on the empty shelves up and down the aisles were rice, tinned tuna and sardines, he said.

The Refugee Concern Network found in a recent survey that 73 per cent of 124 respondents said had difficulty in getting food from supermarkets over the week between Feb 25 and March 4.

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"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 Mr 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."

The city government, which provides some other assistance to refugees apart from the food tokens, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.