My name is El and I would like to share these reflections with you. My son and I support Vision First because this organization advocates and puts in to real daily practice their principles of “Humanity without Borders”; and we are absolutely certain that 100% of our sponsorship goes to those most in need. I had already read and heard about – and my son had witness as a volunteer – how very desperate VF clients’ situation is. Knowing the Asylum Seeker and Refugee Forum would be a good opportunity to discover more, I took the afternoon off work to attend. It turned out to be both a humbling and memorable experience from the start. I had taken the MTR and found the venue in good time. But many, including mothers with very young children, arrived late. I then reminded myself that most would have walked miles from home in order to participate, simply because public transport is not a luxury they can afford. 4:30pm came and the forum panel was introduced. Both the policy and service briefings were highly informative. The questions from the asylum seekers and refugees were direct and impassioned. The answers by the guest speakers (human rights lawyers Massie & Clement, Yip & Liu, HKRAC; activists from SOCO, Pathfinders; service provider ISS) were honest and constructive. I was impressed by how well the proceedings had been preplanned; and even the odd nervous moment passed surprisingly smoothly. As a result, a thoroughly civilized mood was established which lasted till 7pm, despite most clients wanting to continue. These are a few of the numerous sad facts that have become clearer to me:
- asylum seekers and refugees are basically fellow human beings who had the misfortune to be born in countries suffering under cruel and lawless regimes;
- they are here because legitimate China and HK visas provided the only accessible and expeditious means to escape from unacceptable dangers and persecution – in some cases, even death;
- HK laws dictates that they do not have the right to remain here permanently as asylum seekers or refugees;
- the law also doesn’t allow them to get jobs whilst waiting to be assessed and/or resettled. Therefore, all are genuinely unable to support themselves, though many are educated and definitely willing to do so;
- the refugee determination process can take over 7 years; so because they have no right to work, all they can do is sit about or walk around all day, every day – literally waiting in limbo;
- meanwhile their existence is barely recognized by the local general public; and the available official financial aid is insufficient on its own even to rent the most meager of quarters, let alone provide food and other necessities.
At the end of the forum discussions, the speakers were inundated with requests for contact details – a sure sign their apparent dedication had won hearts. Having been able to voice their concerns and get encouragement openly from the actual agencies that serve them, these refugees headed home that night with renewed hope. Finally, Vision First distributed t-shirts to some of those leaving, to their obvious delight. Everyone still has to wait for their big day, but they could at least smile for the moment.