On 20 October 2014, a group of determined refugees achieved a significant result when the Refugee Union, conceptualized in January 2014, was successfully registered in accordance with the provisions of section 5A(1) of the Societies Ordinance.
The Chief Executive of the HKSAR appointed the Commissioner of Police to be the Societies Officer and the Police Licensing Office for the first time registered a society of individuals holding Immigration Recognizance Forms and subject to removal orders. It is reported that other groups of protection claimants are already following the steps of these pioneers.
From the early days of Occupy ISS-HK, the Refugee Union overcame many challenges as it developed its identity around a vision to become a union of protection claimants in Hong Kong that aims to safeguarding refugee rights and improving the protection, wellbeing and future prospects of all refugees.
Shunned by some refugees it is indeed highly appreciated by many others whose voice, given today’s asylum policies, we can only assume have long been unheard by policy-makers and non-refugee advocates. Today the Refugee Union promote self-reliance, empowerment and active participation in matters shaping the asylum sphere according to the highest standards of human rights.
After months of preparation, the Refugee Union is the first refugee-led society in Hong Kong. While similar examples exist among migrant workers, it is in our view troubling that this achievement was never attempted in the past. Perhaps the time was not ripe. This is however only one victorious step in a long journey that will last years, if not decades. Most of the work to strengthen the base and structure of union has just begun and demands sincere collaboration.
The Refugee Union is a positive development that will tests the maturity of members to think and act for the greater good of the entire community – collectively, altruistically and outside the usual third-party networks. The road ahead will not be smooth, but the excitement recorded in the hours following the announcement of the registration promises goodwill and widespread support.
What is next? Much has been learnt from challenges overcome since January, with important lessons already reflected in the Constitution currently being drafted. For example, instead of having a Chairman, members will appoint Councilors in three Committees that will balance authority and handle all matters relating to the society and members’ duties and responsibilities.
With the logistical support of Vision First, an independent office has been equipped at 102 First Street where members can meet daily to discuss problems and formulate actions to accomplish short and long term objectives. The Refugee Union will prioritize securing resources to sustain itself and become a leading voice to influence policies and practices that affect the entire refugee community, reported to be 8000 strong.