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.
My name is Cartier Dieodo and I am an organizer of the Refugee Union. I have a family in Hong Kong and I can never return to my country where the government murdered my father and brother.
I often ask myself the question: “Do refugees have the right to a future and if so, what type?” Any parent will appreciate these burning questions moving in my mind when I look at my children and worry about their future as refugees in Hong Kong.
There are certain observations that have stuck in my mind. I have often reflected upon them in over a decade of asylum in Hong Kong. I have also shared them with my friends. Our lives are awash with events we cannot control. But do we learn from them? Do we learn from the experience we gain?
To turn an event into an experience, we have to reflect upon it, which takes time and focus. Only then can we learn from what happens in our life. I may be wrong, but this is what I believe. The stress and challenge of asylum make me think that if children have the right to education, then what about the parents? What kind of future can we expect raising children like this? How can parents train and raise children without prospects?
An international psychologist taught me that a balance of education, work and family should be a person’s focus. It is the major issue around which so many problems arise. It is therefore relevant for refugees stuck in Hong Kong to ask: Do we have the right to a future? Is the past our future? What future can we offer our children? What will happen to them? I don’t have the answers.
To raise a family in these harsh conditions is very hard. To live a life without a future goes against the nature of being human, because everyone strives for progress in life. To have no future as a refugee is a very challenging and complex situation when no solution is offered by the local government.
Most refugee parents chose to ignore the issue as long as possible. They burry their head in the sand because they have no solution. Many refugee parents maybe do not fully understand the challenge of parenting their children in a fast-paced and dynamic cosmopolitan city – without hope.
The complexity of daily life rises to a degree that calls for new mental capabilities and skills. We cannot live today how we lived yesterday, ignoring the future. It is desirable for all members of the refugee community, those with children and those without, to carefully consider what the future holds.
Parents in particular ought to take special considerations as they are responsible for their family. Without organization the majority of parents will be unable to grasp the new opportunities and rise to shape the future to the fullest of their ability. Those who fail will unfortunately regress.
As parents we need to gain some knowledge to handle properly our children and ourselves for a better future, or there will be none. Strong parents can and will become progressively stronger. Weak parents will one day be challenged by their children asking: What’s my future, Dad?
I am an organizer of the Refugee Union. Two weeks ago my phone rang late in the evening. I was startled as it was a bit late at night. Normally after 8 pm my phone is rather quiet, except for the WhatsApp group chats that streams in busily through out the evening into the late night.
It was our member David, “Brother please help! I am with a family that is homeless and has nowhere to sleep. It includes three small children and four adults. It’s winter, brother! The landlord threw them out in the street, but it’s very cold outside! Can I send them to the Refugee Union?”
“What?” I remarked incredulous. David pressed on persuasively, “Can the Union help them stay in our shelter just for a few days as they look for a home? I am concerned because of the young children.” I didn’t hesitate, “Yes. Sure … We can accommodate them for a few days as they sort things out.”
As the message sank into my mind the matter brought me face to face with a reality that members of the refugee community go through in their day to day life in Hong Kong. The only difference is that today it was a different group of people , these are Hong Kong residents. I was deeply touched by that conversation: here are refugees extending a helping hand to residents!
It was almost midnight and a large homeless family was coming over. I imagined that the young children were cold and desperate for a warm and safe environment to sleep. The family was in a McDonald’s restaurant where they sought shelter after they were thrown out into the cold night by their landlord. The parents didn’t have many options as social services are quiet slow to say the least.
That night, David had gone to a McDonald’s for a late night snack as it was too late to cook. As he enjoyed a burger, he overheard one of the kids asking his mum when they could return home, because they were uncomfortable sleeping on plastic benches. He paid attention to the unfolding scene as the kids pressed the parents to go home.
After carefully listening to the conversation, it dawned on David that he was witnessing a desperate situation. It was a conversation that any parent would dread to have with their children. And David has two young ones of his own. On inquiry, the mother explained that they had been thrown into the streets the previous night. She went on to say that without money for rent, they had slept at McDonald’s, where they hoped not to be turned away.
When they arrived at our office, I gave them the access code to the shelter and showed them our modest facilities. The following morning they were very happy and grateful that the Union had offered them a place to sleep. They were surprised and shocked that refugees could help other people – even Hong Kong residents!
For them David was god-sent as they had hit rock bottom. It has now been two weeks since we sheltered them. They have settled down very comfortably. However, they lack privacy and space as large family. This is because our members actively frequent the office throughout the day and late at night. But the family doesn’t mind. They feel welcome by our community.
During our Christmas Party we celebrated together as one family. We shared gifts, food and drinks as one people struggling to survive in Hong Kong. They shared the daily donations we receive from our generous supporters. At the Refugee Union there is always extra food and warmth for people struggling, irrespective of social or immigration status. Hardship sometimes draws people closer than blood.
In March 2014, my sister invited me to support the Refugee Union in one of their protests in Wanchai: “Occupy SWD Against Corruption”. After the demonstration, I knew more about the suffering situation of such a long-neglected disadvantaged group. Then, I did more research on the Refugee Union, which is a registered society for protecting asylum seekers in Hong Kong with the aim of safeguarding refugee rights and improving the protection, wellbeing and future prospect of all refugees.
Many refugees and asylum seekers are still being held up indefinitely and they might even lose hopes in life. I felt that I could offer my support especially to the young kids who are very vulnerable to their surroundings, yet it is not their choices. The children do not know what is going on around them. In order to better develop their potential and help them to better integrate into the society, I offered my time and efforts in preparing a weekly free Cantonese class every Saturday afternoon. Apart from helping them to deal with the difficulties in homework, I would also prepare and conduct tailor-made supplementary Cantonese notes for them, such as the written art work, poems, songs and various innovative games for them to practice the local language.
Throughout a year of voluntary teaching, I encountered difficulties in designing the teaching materials. Since learning diversity exists between those studying kindergarten and the others studying primary school 2 or 3, I had to adjust the level of the content. Also, I recruited some helpers to assist those young children with poorer Chinese levels. In addition, I was challenged to plan innovative and creative learning activities. Fortunately, I received much good advice from my school teachers, helpers from other universities and friends.
This opportunity inspired me to take related courses, research and read books regarding teaching Chinese to non-Chinese students. I am more confident in arranging Chinese learning activities which will motivate young kids. I think they will learn something from my class and be more capable in breaking down the language barriers. I would like to give thanks to the parents of the refugee kids since they help a lot to manage the class discipline.
I am glad that I have been growing up with the children of the Refugee Union for a year. Having Cantonese class with them is very enjoyable and meaningful since they are eager to learn and often bring happiness to me. Moreover, I have met many refugees who have travelled a long way to Hong Kong, and I admire their extraordinary resilience and tenacity. Through teaching these energetic and enthusiastic youngsters, I strive to assist them in integrating into the society, so they may have equal opportunities to fully contribute their potential. I am also confident that my students will share my dedication to help the needy in society.