A splendid sunny afternoon was the bright backdrop for a group photo of refugee children, many born in the city with no prospect of local integration. A Bangladeshi father of two was first to arrive, “I sought asylum in September 2004 and ten years later we are counting every dollar in our pockets. We raise two children but cannot work. Every month we sell 500$ of [emergency rations] to pay for extra school [expenses]. We are like beggars because nobody will give us work.”
When everything else is lost, refugee parents give up personal dreams and aspirations, but will obviously not forsake their children who deserve every chance to prepare for the future, as challenging as that may be. An African father of three explained, “We only have hope. If there is only a tiny pinprick of light we must walk towards it. If it is [extinguished] there is only blackness, despair and nothing to live for. We can never go back because we came here to save our children.”
“Their grades are good even in Chinese,” says a proud South Asian mother, “But they miss two days of school because I don’t have bus money. I think they have the right to have a future because the parents they suffered to save their life. Why should they be punished for the problems that their parents [escaped]? I hope this action will make public to the suffering caused by not [being allowed to] work. Can a family live without work?”
The joyful exuberance exhibited by children at play was in sharp contrasted to the parents’ worries. They speak to Vision First and a news reporter in hushed voices seemingly not intended for the young ones to hear. Such prudence might evince a hopeful attitude maintained at home to tirelessly encourage children to bravely face a grim and disheartening reality.
Frustration runs deep and not a single parent genuinely shares the light-heartedness demonstrated by their children at this gathering. Years of delays and disappointed eroded trust in the system almost entirely. Holding a beaming daughter, a West African father explains, “Why does the government punish us and make life impossible? We must [focus] attention on the injustice of denying refugees [the right to] work, but making us pay thousands of dollars [in basic living costs] every month. Why are we jailed for working if we don’t get enough [government assistance]?
A South Asian mother joined in with a hopeful message for the authorities, “I wish and pray that the people responsible for our needs, especially for the kids’, will see and feel our struggles. At least they can open their eyes and remember that the young ones are our future.”
The struggling mother of three gorgeous girls added, “The mothers and fathers of these children are not allowed to work. I wish and hope that Social Welfare Department and Hong Kong government will help these children to have a better future. I hope someday these children will achieve their goal in their lives to prove that, even if they are children of refugee, they can have a good future. [They can] show the world that refugee children have the right to achieve their goal in this world.”