A month ago Refugee Union celebrated its first anniversary as a registered society. It was a great moment of as members celebrate a union that has given them identity and a sense of belonging in a society that has generally turned its back on us.
Since its formation, the RU had one ambitious mandate: to safeguard the rights of the refugees. Armed with this mission it set sail despite considerable odds to achieve its objective: to empower members to selflessly assist each other and actively participate in all matters relating to the life of refugees and the development of the asylum sphere in Hong Kong according to the highest standards of human rights. We certainly had our work cut out.
One year down the line the first score card is out and we believe it is a positive one. We offered the refugee community a platform to fearlessly tackle the problems they face. The RU has engaged with the various government and societal bodies, including many universities and schools. RU has given numerous interviews to students who have taken a keen interest in our distressed lives. At our office new collaborations and partnerships have been established for the benefit of our community.
We have since received a surprising number of requests from schools, colleges and universities seeking to engage and partner with the refugee community. Individuals as well as organizations both local and international have shown considerable interest in our cause. These partnerships has translated into much needed support that has made us feel part and parcel of broader Hong Kong community.
In our first year, we have enjoyed an upward trajectory of support and acceptance, particularly in the aftermaths of the European refugee crisis. This festive season we have been honored by generous invitations to grace Christmas parties where food, drinks, gifts and cheer were in abundance. Our children enjoyed receiving many presents from various NGOs and schools who ensured they did not miss out on the festivity.
We sincerely thank all those who made us smile through way of donations, gifts as well as best wishes – THANK YOU.
Although refugees remain deeply marginalized and discriminated against we still soldier on with the hope that the authorities will adopt more thoughtful and considerate policies in managing the challenge of asylum with due consideration of the international instrument that are binding on Hong Kong SAR.
As we continue to wait for change, the Refugee Union will strengthen its struggle for respect and dignity for all persons in a refugee-like situation.
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.