I was resting at home one evening after a long day when my phone rang. “Is this the Refugee Union?” asked the caller. “Yes”, I replied, “This is the Refugee Union. How may I help you?” The caller replied, “I am calling from Police Headquarters in Wanchai. We need your help. We have one homeless refugee here with us. Can you offer him accommodation?”
As an officer-bearer, I was glad to offer our services. The officer requested I visit the police headquarters the following morning. I wondered the whole night the reason why the Hong Kong Police Force would call the Refugee Union to request assistance. Why can’t they call the Social Welfare Department who are best suited to offer emergency services to such people? It was interesting though.
On arrival at the headquarters I was ushered into an office where I met a Middle-Eastern refugee who had been arrested and previously convicted and jailed. The officer-in-charge requested that Refugee Union offer the guy a place to stay, as well as act as high court surety to get him out on bail. At the meeting there was also an Immigration officer who was busy taking notes and asked about the newly registered Refugee Union.
The senior officer requested to inspect the Refugee Union premises before they released the refugee into our care. We drove in a police van to our offices where they carried out a comprehensive inspection. We started with our spacious and welcoming office and proceeded to the resource centre where members can get online and chat the sofas that at night double up as beds. We had a Russian, an Egyptian, an African and a Middle-eastern guest last night!
They looked at the kitchen and bathroom and were satisfied. The senior officer concluded, “This is good. You can keep this guy here, but first we need you to come to the High Court to stand as surety for him. The judge will verify the details about the Refugee Union, if the court is satisfied then he will be released and can live with you here as we proceed with his case.”
At the court the judge sought to know more about the Refugee Union and the officers produced the registration certificate. The judge asked, “Can I have a look at his documents please?” I produced my Immigration paper and Refugee Union membership card. An attending Immigration officer checked my documents before handing them to the judge. The judge then looked carefully at my membership card before nodding and handing them back.
I was proud this was the first time the Refugee Union identification documents were produced and accepted by a court of law. It was a great moment of truth as I wasn’t sure the judge would accept that form of identification as non-permanent residents are required to produce their passports together with HK ID cards for high court bail procedures.
I was very happy and excited. For once refugees have been recognized and appreciated. The Hong Kong Police and Immigration, and indeed the courts of law, acknowledged that Refugee Union and accepted that we can look after and support each other. We can step up in the hour of need of our brothers and sisters who are not even members, because the Refugee Union is here to help.
As the police drove us back to the office, my mind was in an excited spin as I could hardly believe what had happened. Events of the past few months have been very interesting and might have forged a new path for refugees to be acknowledged in society. Meanwhile the Refugee Union pushes ahead and next week we will ratify our Constitution striving for the respect of refugee rights in Hong Kong. That’s our fundamental goal. Long live the Refugee Union!