What’s the difference between an illegal immigrant and a genuine refugee?
An illegal immigrant said: “It’s difficult to live at home. I must look for better opportunities …”
A refugee said: “It’s impossible to survive at home. I might be killed tonight …”
But how do refugees reach the breaking point? It happens when justice fails, when persecutors bring down blows, when tormentors drag them inches from death, beyond care and consequence. They prepare themselves for death, because what they were was all they had. Now family, friends and community all turned to horror. In jail there are beatings and torture. Executions are the enemy’s final tactic – effective terror in a life beyond ransom. Fear and rage, tears and despair are all there is left. They feel driven mad and wish for death as a welcome release. Terrible things happen. Everything is going to hell, they feel it in their bones. The enemy’s hands are dipped in your family’s blood. Life has lost meaning. There is no mercy, no justice, no rules – just fury and hatred. More killings and executions … you are next … but suddenly you escape!
Through self-imposed odyssey, refugees remain tied to their country, their family, their culture while struggling to adapt and move on. Hong Kong is nothing but a transit point, a temporary shelter offering no residence, no work, no durable solution. A letter they sign on release from detention reminds them of this reality. Eventually they are expelled from a facility where they got meals, shelter and medicines. They must fend for themselves from the No. 52X bus-stop, without coins for the fair. They walk to Kowloon … hoping to encounter a Good Samaritan … because courage brought them this far. It’s a hard life. Time moves in jerks. Life is swallowed by fear, depression and humiliation. They came because they needed to escape, they had no choice. Nobody chooses to be a refuge to better their fortune. They carry the double burden of loss and hopelessness, of a life wasted away in a recurring nightmare, beyond help. They fend off grinding poverty, hunger, homelessness. On top of these there is abuse and discrimination, the public failing to distinguish illegal immigrants from refugees. Food, water, shelter all cost money. They beg for help from anyone who’ll listen. Crime is absent despite their dreadful circumstances. They walk up to restaurants and ask for bread … they ask random people for help … they eat when they get a break, they shower when they get lucky. They pray for meal, a park bench, an empty pew, a caring stranger. How much tougher it is if you are still a youth! The bane of humanity is indeed ignorance and want.
Refugees are a shadow of the life they used to be. In our city they enjoy freedom of movement without the means to survive; the right to walk and breath, but not a chance to cook and wash. It’s as if the walls of prison expanded to encompass the city; yet walls they remain and their life is doomed to poverty, with no hope beyond today. Our authorities condemn them to an existence with few resources – prohibiting work paid or unpaid, including volunteering – to live like frogs trapped in a well, from where they can see a patch of sky they’ll never reach. We can only appreciate their plight in a friend-to-friend conversation, with trust and empathy. There are only two certainties: shame and suffering. There is nobody else for them, no family, no community. They are forced out on the street like beggars. Violence, insecurity, despair, life on the edge, lost in gloom and bitterness, doing anything to survive, even sell their body … These are our invisible citizens, wondering faces lost in well-known streets, including children deprived of a future by accident of birth. Their wounds are old and nothing can be done to prevent them … however, the scarring can be healed and that’s our social responsibility.