A single mother who lives in a subdivided flat in Mong Kok has been left homeless for a month after tear gas seeped into her home and caused her son to break out in rashes.
The pair are two of the many Yau Tsim Mong district residents whose lives have been affected by the police’s use of tear gas to disperse anti-government protests in the area last month. The mother, who only wanted to be known as Ko, spoke at a press conference on Saturday along with two other affected residents.
“I was sleeping when the smell of tear gas leaked into my flat through the air conditioning. I could not breathe and my chest hurt. After that, I took my son and left, to my hometown in China,” Ko said.
“I just want a safe place to live with my son,” Ko said, breaking down in tears as she spoke.
She said she left on November 13 after a series of weekday protests starting on November 11 crippled transport and businesses across the city. Clashes between anti-government protesters and police led to tear gas being fired in various districts, including Mong Kok.
Since then, Ko has moved four times, including to a friend’s house in Tuen Mun. “I had to travel so far to get to my son’s school in Mong Kok. In the end, he was late. He is very unhappy these days, and his rashes make him itch all night,” she said.
Her son’s rashes appeared soon after the tear gas entered her flat on Sai Yeung Choi Street South, which runs parallel to Nathan Road, where clashes often broke out with police firing round of the smoky irritant to clear protesters who blocked traffic and threw petrol bombs and other projectiles at them.
The protests, triggered by a now-withdrawn extradition bill and since broadened into an anti-government movement, are approaching the six-month mark.
Ko said neither Western nor traditional Chinese doctors could cure her son, and the lingering tear gas smell in her flat meant she could not return to move her belongings. She continues to pay rent, but hopes she will be given compensation to move out.
Ko is unemployed as she has to take care of her son, and relies on the government’s Comprehensive Social Security Assistance scheme, which covers her rent and other expenses.
Derek Chu Kong-wai, the newly elected district councillor for Mong Kok South, said he and other pan-democrat councillors had managed to secure temporary housing for Ko, and would seek to meet housing and welfare officials to discuss her case soon.
Another incoming district councillor, Lee Kwok-kuen from the Tai Nan area in Yau Tsim Mong district, said pan-democrats from his district had agreed to set up a working group to help more residents affected by tear gas.
“We will also find independent medical experts to collect more data on the health effects of tear gas,” said Lee, who – like Chu – is from pro-democracy party Community March.
Another resident at the press conference was a parent who identified himself as Cheung. He said the use of tear gas around the Yau Ma Tei wholesale fruit market, near his son’s school, was very concerning.
“I dressed him in long sleeves and told him not to touch anything in school,” he said.
He added the school had only asked its own cleaners to clean the facilities and his son, who is in Primary Five, said five of his classmates had upset stomachs after returning to class.
Another newly elected Community March councillor, Suzanne Wu Sui-shan of Yau Ma Tei South, said the Education Bureau needed to hire professional cleaners to handle tear gas residue as well as providing proper protection for contract cleaners.
The three district councillors-elect called on the government to release information on the components of tear gas, echoing earlier calls from lawmakers and environmental groups.
“And it is not enough to just release information. The government must also compensate affected residents,” Chu said.
Potentially, a government is the most dangerous threat to man's rights: it holds a legal monopoly on the use of physical force against legally disarmed victims.