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.
The Hong Kong Institute of Education (HKIEd) today (6 November) hosted a forum entitled Educating Hong Kong’s Refugee Children: Policy and Practice, with various stakeholder groups joining the discussion, including teachers, representatives from nongovernmental organisations, refugee parents and members of the public.
Organised by the Centre for Governance and Citizenship and supported by the Faculty of Education and Human Development (FEHD), the symposium recognised that although Hong Kong receives limited numbers of refugees, refugee children in particular pose challenges for society and the government. International agreements commit the government to providing access to schooling for these children, but school fees and other purchases make that access difficult for some families.
Dr York Chow Yatngok, Chairperson of the Equal Opportunities Commission, opened the Forum. Professor John Lee Chikin, Vice President (Academic) of HKIEd, then stressed that ‘education can transform societies and individuals, including refugees. Asylum seekers, both here in Hong Kong and elsewhere, struggle to be self-sufficient, and it is education that can equip them develop the necessary skills and knowledge’.
A number of Hong Kong schools have opened their doors to refugee children. Ms Olivia Lo Tinoi, Assistant Education Officer from the Education Bureau’s Newly Arrived Children Support Unit, introduced the current services provided for refugee children, and Dr Rizwan Ullah from Delia Memorial School (Hip Wo) discussed his experience teaching them.
Among the panel speakers was Ms Adella Namagembe from the Refugee Union, who discussed the perspectives of refugee parents and their experiences in seeking educational opportunities for their children.
Dr Terence Shum Chuntat from the Technological and Higher Education Institute of Hong Kong, who has been studying the situation of refugees and asylum seekers in Hong Kong, discussed his observations of the current policy direction.
Dr Isabella Ng Fung Sheung from the Department of Asian and Policy Studies, who also volunteers at the Hong Kong Society for Asylum Seekers and Refugees, presented her analysis of policy implementation and the difficulties faced by refugee children and their parents in Hong Kong.
Professor Bob Adamson, Chair Professor of Curriculum Reform, concluded the forum by highlighting that ‘Hong Kong, being an international city, needs to reach out to its refugees and asylum seekers to demonstrate its social responsibility and compassion’.