Hong Kong is an international city with a multitude of nationalities, such as Australians, Americans, Africans, Southeast Asians and Europeans. However in the street Hong Kong Police is very keen to frequently check and single out black people. What on earth have African people done, or is it because of our skin color?
In fact, the so called “Freedom of Movement” in this city has become a regular prison experience for us mostly Africans, refugees and residents alike, because uniformed officers regularly harass and follow us around without probable cause. Are African people considered criminals on sight?
Most times the police approach us in the streets and parks and demonstrate clear disrespect and discrimination. We are greatly profiled compared to other nationalities. How often are other races intercepted for random checks and searches? I don’t think overseas Chinese are treated this way especially in Africa where I come from.
For example, at 6pm on 2 January 2016 we were crossing a road near Central Ferry Piers with an African friend. As we waited for the pedestrian lights to turn green, we noticed three uniformed Police officers standing on the opposite side of the road. When they saw us, they spoke to each other and then came directly towards us. We were predictably intercepted and stopped.
We were asked to produce our passports or ID cards. The officers were surprised when we both produced Hong Kong ID cards. Presumably they thought that we were over stayers. As they called in for personal data, they requested us to raise our hands in the air while they searched our pockets, bags and wallets as passersby walked around and watched the spectacle.
One Police officer asked us, “Where are you from?”, “Are you tourists?”, “Where are you going?” To say the least, we were very upset at the way we were being treated, as if we were criminals. I replied to them, “Please, you have our identity cards. You should find all the information you are looking for from your office. There is no need to ask us.”
Then we enquired, “Why do you always suspect and stop African people in the street? Why do you treat us like criminals? Do you check other nationalities like this? Look at the many people passing by. Why don’t you check their IDs and disrespect them like you are doing to us now?”
One of the officers replied, “Yes, we check everybody the same way we are doing to you now. And this is for our record and you can check our record to see.” However our experience in Hong Kong and that of many Africans we know is quite different. It appears that police stop and search many black people, particularly in certain areas like around Chung King Mansion and both sides of the Star Ferry.
We then responded, “We do not believe what you are saying, because ever since we have been living in Hong Kong, we have never seen the police treat other nationalities the way they treat blacks. However, African governments and people respect and protect Chinese people whenever they visit the African Countries. In fact, the Chinese in Africa are privileged and enjoy their freedoms unlike blacks in Hong Kong, monitored and followed everywhere. This is harassment. Africans also deserve to be free in Hong Kong.”
The officers did not reply. They looked at each other. Closed their notebooks and walked off.
Stopping and questioning
Under section 54(1) of the Police Force Ordinance (Cap. 232 Laws of Hong Kong), it is lawful for a police officer to stop a person who is acting in a suspicious manner. The police officer may require that person to produce proof of identity (i.e. by showing a Hong Kong ID card or passport), and detain that person on the spot for a reasonable period to make enquiries into whether or not the person is suspected of having committed any offence at any time. What constitutes a “suspicious manner” is based only on the subjective assessment of the police officer. However, the police officer must, in fact, have a genuine suspicion.
We refugees should not remain passive as others label us with their lies. This has become more problematic over the ten years I have been stranded in Hong Kong. If refugees don’t speak up, who will understand our difficulties and support our struggle? I believe we should connect directly with citizens, liaise more and share about ourselves and learn about residents. Like it or not, we are part of ONE COMMUNITY.
Few will deny that refugees are negatively portrayed in the mainstream media by government propaganda which constructs stereotypes, spreads prejudice and condones discrimination. To counter this negativity, refugees must create a platform of exchange that including people with different backgrounds of ethnicity, religion and language. We cannot remain silent.
Communication is the answer. We need to share our stories and tell other people about our culture, what defines us in the global community and in the place we call home today. My experience teaches me that citizens are generally very interested to learn about our culture heritage and ethnic diversity.
When presented with the right opportunity, residents are curious about refugees and ready to bridge the artificial and unnatural gap create by immigration laws – which by the way don’t make sense to everyone. How much do locals know about the lives and traditions refugees follow? How many have visited the countries we come from? How can refugees win hearts and minds?
By sharing our experiences and telling our stories, we can open their eyes to a broader worldview. We can foster understanding and encourage integration through getting to know one another. This is the true Spirit of Globalization, where every village connects amicably and collaborates fairly. It is a fact that more Hong Kong ladies are marrying refugees than ever before.
At times it may be deeply personal and emotional, but that is the nature of friendship. Residents need to get an idea of what we feel and we need to open our hearts to them. Communication is a two-way street. It is talking and listening at a deeper, trusting level. I encourage refugees to unite and reach out to the community to form friendships. It is a civilized response to the hatred and division flamed by the government.
To overcome discrimination, the Refugee Union should firstly promote greater collaboration and self-reflection with its members. Admittedly much needs to be done in this respect. We should then focus on the positives we offer, on the contribution we already make and the potential we have as an organized, empowered family.
There is clearly a need for assistance, fundraising and advocacy, but we must also endeavour to give something back to the community and create more harmony. Let’s not forget we enjoy Freedom of Speech, so it’s our duty to assure refugees have a proper voice in Hong Kong. It has been said before: Refugees are ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. The brightest light sometimes comes from the darkest places.