In the last few months the Hong Kong society has been treated to a charade of drama by the Government. The level of propaganda has gone a notch higher as they work hard to deflect attention from the real issues affecting us refugees in Hong Kong.
After the mass exodus of refugees from Middle East to Europe, and the crisis that resulted from this movement, there came an outpouring of overwhelming support for the refugees from all over the world. This peaked with news of the young Syrian boy who drowned while his family attempted to reach Europe by sea. The solidarity expressed to the refugees who were seeking safe haven, running away from death and torture, is commendable.
The dramatic scenes that greeted our TV screens and also the horror stories that we read from the media were both encouraging and touching, while often equally terrifying. In Germany for example some groups of citizens welcomed the refugees to their homes. In Norway and other Nordic countries some Government officials offered their official residences to those seeking sanctuary. The sharing and compassion was at its highest in European countries. The citizen initiatives put immense political pressure on governments who made dramatic U-turns from earlier hardline stances. The governments agreed to take in thousands of refugees and offer them the protection they so desperately needed.
The Western countries leadership felt challenged and had to up their game to meet citizens’ demands. True to their calling, Western leaders showed and demonstrated their people’s compassion and values by offering leadership during this historic time of need. Angela Merkel was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize due to her perceived humanitarian offer and was nominated Time Magazine Person of the Year. Her declaration that Germany stand and be counted made the whole world revisit and reevaluate immigration policies. She set a momentous precedent that others struggled to emulate. The rest is history.
Here in Hong Kong, society reacted with similar compassion. Many stepped forward in solidarity with refugees worldwide. However, the political leadership did not heed their call but activated propaganda to deflect attention from the issues affecting the refugee community. As the locals came forward to help refugees, the Government threw the spanners in the works by branding us illegal immigrants who should be deported. Further, refugees were referred to as abusers of the Immigration policy and targeted for taking up work. This hate-filled profiling was carried out through a selective prism of the law. We have been portrayed as thieves, economic migrants and undesirable group of people who should not be here.
The objective of the Government is to fuel the fire of hate and discrimination by creating a picture of unwanted persons who deserves no compassion and support from locals. Thankfully this has yet to take root. The Government was afraid of the solidarity movement that was spreading across the world. It did not want the people of Hong Kong to demand answers and accountability on how refugees have been mistreated for over two decades.
Taking a cue from the world at large the people of Hong Kong have come forward to assist the refugee community more than ever before. More and more students are flocking to the Refugee Union office seeking to learn more about the refugees and their way of life. Many however are shocked and taken aback by our moving stories. After listening to us they cannot understand how we have managed to survive this far.
Supporters soon appreciate that the hardships that we go through in our daily lives here in Hong Kong is unbelievable. For most of the Hong Kong people it is nothing short of a nightmare. From inadequate welfare assistance to a hostile immigration policy and a ban from working, for refugees its survival of the fittest in a hostile environment. To live a life in a limbo with not enough to eat, no source of income, and no suitable accommodation has reduced us into beggars who live at the margins of society without hope for a better tomorrow.
However, our resilience and determination have been overlooked.
Refugee Union collaborates with Health in Action to improve the health of our members. We welcome our members to register with the office to join this Program that will set the path for a healthier living in a field where we suffer very poor care in the Public health care system.
We invite our members to participate and spread the word to enable Health in Action to achieve this far sighted goal
According to the HIA proposal, the project aims to:
- conduct comprehensive survey in different households to understand their housing needs
- understand how living conditions affect ASR’s health mentally and physically
- help deliver basic medical checkups (body mass index, blood pressure, blood glucose) for ASRs, and do follow ups for cases accordingly to the households that we visit
- compile a report to reveal the demographic profile, living conditions and service needs of ASRs
The Refugee Union commends the Social Welfare Department on the lifting of restrictions imposed on the use of food coupons issued to the refugee community since June 2015.
According a notice issued by ISS-HK, Hong Kong Government scrapped the conditions imposed on the food coupons effective 1st December 2015. This is an improvement to streamline one of the essentials services we receive.
Again it wasn’t easy, but action by the Refugee Union carried the day. It followed a wave of RU complaints backed by protests and sits-ins by refugees who complained about the embarrassing and dehumanizing restrictions. Why should parents tell children they are not allowed to eat biscuits?
The Refugee Union was at the vanguard of this operation to bring dignity to a service that humiliated many refugees paying for groceries with Wellcome coupons. In an email dated 21 July 2015, the Refugee Union highlighted its dissatisfaction on the way the program was implemented.
We wrote, “The imposition of conditions on food coupons is being perceived in bad faith by the refugee community. There is a general consensus and acceptance that cigarettes and alcohol can be prohibited items. However we disagree with other conditions imposed in exchange for the coupons … All the prohibitions imposed on the coupons ought to be removed with immediate effect.”
The Union requested that SWD evaluate the effectiveness of this policy with a view to improving it forthwith. We explained, “We find these conditions being highly punitive, oppressive and outright discriminatory, the differentiation of coupons issued to the refugee community from other coupons issued by Wellcome Supermarkets in terms of color and the purchasing restrictions that are tied to the user profile discriminates against a group of people who already feels rejected and unwanted by the society”.
On 25 September 2015, the SWD replied, “We are glad to learn that Refugee Union generally welcomes the new provision mode of food assistance to the non-refoulement claimants (i.e. by means of food coupons) which is introduced with a view to widening the food choices and providing more outlets for collection … The food coupon system is a brand new arrangement. We will seriously consider the suggestions on widening the food choices and the suggestions of confining the prohibited items to cigarettes and alcoholic drinks only.”
Refugee Union therefore thanks Hong Kong Government for taking this positive action to improve the livelihood of refugees who sought its protection.
In March 2014, my sister invited me to support the Refugee Union in one of their protests in Wanchai: “Occupy SWD Against Corruption”. After the demonstration, I knew more about the suffering situation of such a long-neglected disadvantaged group. Then, I did more research on the Refugee Union, which is a registered society for protecting asylum seekers in Hong Kong with the aim of safeguarding refugee rights and improving the protection, wellbeing and future prospect of all refugees.
Many refugees and asylum seekers are still being held up indefinitely and they might even lose hopes in life. I felt that I could offer my support especially to the young kids who are very vulnerable to their surroundings, yet it is not their choices. The children do not know what is going on around them. In order to better develop their potential and help them to better integrate into the society, I offered my time and efforts in preparing a weekly free Cantonese class every Saturday afternoon. Apart from helping them to deal with the difficulties in homework, I would also prepare and conduct tailor-made supplementary Cantonese notes for them, such as the written art work, poems, songs and various innovative games for them to practice the local language.
Throughout a year of voluntary teaching, I encountered difficulties in designing the teaching materials. Since learning diversity exists between those studying kindergarten and the others studying primary school 2 or 3, I had to adjust the level of the content. Also, I recruited some helpers to assist those young children with poorer Chinese levels. In addition, I was challenged to plan innovative and creative learning activities. Fortunately, I received much good advice from my school teachers, helpers from other universities and friends.
This opportunity inspired me to take related courses, research and read books regarding teaching Chinese to non-Chinese students. I am more confident in arranging Chinese learning activities which will motivate young kids. I think they will learn something from my class and be more capable in breaking down the language barriers. I would like to give thanks to the parents of the refugee kids since they help a lot to manage the class discipline.
I am glad that I have been growing up with the children of the Refugee Union for a year. Having Cantonese class with them is very enjoyable and meaningful since they are eager to learn and often bring happiness to me. Moreover, I have met many refugees who have travelled a long way to Hong Kong, and I admire their extraordinary resilience and tenacity. Through teaching these energetic and enthusiastic youngsters, I strive to assist them in integrating into the society, so they may have equal opportunities to fully contribute their potential. I am also confident that my students will share my dedication to help the needy in society.