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.
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.
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’.