Profiles of asylum – When wasted time is the only certainty

Post Date: Oct 18th, 2020 | Categories: Personal Experiences, Refugee Community | COMMENT

Fadil sat on the airport bench, his wife on one side and his children on the other. They did not know where to go: immigration had just denied their claim to be refugees in Hong Kong. Thus, he had to stay in the city for three months until his visa expired before he would become eligible to apply for asylum seeker status. This was the case for most asylum seekers in Hong Kong as the city is not a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention and has vowed not to recognize refugees.

Fadil had watched people -locals, tourists, officials- rush to and from in the airport for three days already. Some bore large, weighted suitcases; others nothing but a handy briefcases. Fadil wondered where all these people were going. Were they going home to visit family? On vacation with friends? Or were they running from danger like him? Regardless, it did not matter, for all these people clearly had a destination to look forward to, whilst he him did not.

It was amidst this confusion that a man approached Fadil. He was a burly man, face framed with a curling, short beard, with the expression resembling that of a kind, fair parent. He sat down on the airport bench directly opposite Fadil, leant forward in his seat, and crossed his arms. “What are you doing here?” the man inquired, directly meeting Fadil’s eyes. “I’ve seen you stay here for three days and three nights now. Why are you still here?” The man’s question did not come with judgment, rather with genuine curiosity and concern.

Seeing that his wife and children were sound asleep, heads rested on laps and armrests at awkward angles, Fadil leant forward and told his story. The man listened attentively, nodding and sighing until Fadil finally finished. The man was a practical one: he understood the many tragic events that had happened to Fadil and his family, but did not focus on them. Rather, his primary concern was what Fadil could do at this moment in time.

“Look,” The man said, “The NGO I work with runs this shelter where you and your family could stay until your visa expires. You can think about going there.” With that, he handed Fadil a flimsy brochure and wished him good luck. He was soon on his way to his destination.

However, the next three months were far from easy. The NGO separated asylum seekers by gender into two shelters which were located an hour or so away from one another. Thus, Fadil and his son stayed together in one whilst his wife and two daughters lodged in the other. The shelter they stayed at was only open at night, so they would leave at 8am and return after 6pm. The meals and many hours in between were left to Fadil’s own resourcefulness.

Fadil sat in the coffee shop of the mall, his family huddled around him on the small table. The sweet scent of brewing coffee and hot pastries overwhelmed him. Fadil was a mechanic back home, and thus his income then was sufficient to afford their family an adequate middle-class lifestyle: a large farmhouse, mostly home cooked meals, occasional celebrations in restaurants. However, upon arriving in Hong Kong, not being able to work, he had to suddenly become accustomed to a life without these comforts. Like today, as they sat, all they could do was lavish in the aroma of good food and watch others devour it, without being able to get so much as a single bite.

They certainly did not do this because they enjoyed being reminded of all the privileges that they had given up seeking asylum, but instead they only sat there to escape the scorching heat and humidity outside. It was unfortunate that Fadil had arrived at the worst of Hong Kong’s weather- July.

 “Excuse me.” A young barista, perhaps a university student with a summer job, peered at their table. “Sir, you can’t sit here without buying a drink.” Despite being young in age, she was authoritative in words, her arms folded firmly before her chest. Without much choice, Fadil and this family got up, packed up what little they had brought with them, and were forced out of the café – once again kicked out of a temporary home.

This was how Fadil and his family spent the majority of their time during those three months: loitering aimlessly together in the day and separated at shelters in the night. Six years later, Fadil and family still wonder how to make sense of their lives and misfortune as their asylum claims remain unresolved and wasted time is the only certainty.

Contributed by Vania Chow

 Wasted time