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.
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’.
The Refugee Union is in talks with Urban Refugees (France) www.urban-refugees.org
URBAN REFUGEES was created in November 2012 as a French NGO. Its mission is to improve the lives of urban refugees and IDPs in developing countries by supporting refugee led-organizations in urban settings, by facilitating networking between key stakeholders and by advocating at the policy level.
Until now, our activities focused on raising the profile of urban displacement situations using online tools, building key partnerships with organizations including the UNHCR Urban Refugee Task Team (URTT) and gathering civil society organizations, academics and experts into a central network.
The Incubator project will be our first program in the field. Upon completion of those 4 first incubation programs, a thorough evaluation will be conducted and the program will be replicated to serve other refugee-led organizations. Incubation of refugee organizations outside camps will become the main activity of our organization.
We have two branches, one in the USA (New York) and one in France (Paris). Each brand has its own Board of Directors. An executive committee brings together directors from the French and USA branch for strategic decisions.
Refugee Union was honored by a visit from the Ajuntament de Barcelona, Mr Miquel Mateu Balleste (Programme Director – Department of International Relations and Cooperation, Spain
Mr Mateu found Refugee Union through the internet and says ” I was very much impressed by what your Organization is doing to help asylum seekers and refugees in Hong Kong”
After following us on face book he decided to come and visit us in the office during one of his tours in the Asia Pacific region. “The city of Barcelona has opened its doors to the refugees who are running away from torture and wars” Mr Mateu continued.
He commended the Refugee Union and Vision First for our role in defending the rights of refugees in Hong Kong. “I will come back soon with other People who are willing and ready to work with you in helping refugees all the World”. He said.
Refugee Union promised him that we will vigorously continue to advocate for a comprehensive policy change on refugees in Hong Kong to enable them to live in dignity and respect as human beings. This includes but not limited to RIGHT TO WORK, A CREDIBLE and OBJECTIVE SCREENING PROCESS or FULL WELFARE PROVISION in the absence of Right to Work among others.
Photo with Mr. Miquel Mateu, Director de Programa Àsia-Pacífic, Programme Director Asia-Pacific, Direcció de Relacions Internacionals, Department of International Relations, Ajuntament de Barcelona, Spain