I jumped out of a back room window when the police came to my home to arrest me a second time. I had been detained, questioned and tortured before, but refused to stop campaigning at university against state violence and abuse of human rights. The voice inside me was too strong. I could not keep quiet about injustice and I paid dearly for it. I have been in exile in Hong Kong for 9 years.
Recently in Chung King Mansions a student asked me why refugees exploit the liberal visa regime and abuse the asylum system to work illegally (economic interest) and sometimes to sell drugs (criminal interest). What needs to be understood is how the system forces people into these directions by denying the right to work, failing to provide enough assistance and jailing refugees 15 months for working and 7 months for selling drugs. Isn’t this entrapment?
Refugees in Hong Kong are dehumanized, denied basic human rights, don’t get enough support to survive, no proper accommodation, not enough food … people in this kind of situation must find a way to survive and sometimes the easier way is the illegal one. It is not refugees who are abusing the system, but the system that is abusing refugees. Then the government conveniently brands refugees as deviant, as threats to society, when in fact refugees have no legal direction.
I was talking to a resident who agreed that refugees do not engage in serious crime, generally speaking. It is low level offences that hardly register with the public. True criminals don’t need this process, they have better, more lucrative and sophisticated ways to achieve bigger objectives. The crimes that vulnerable refugees commit are worth a few hundred dollars, or thousand at best. It is money we desperately need to pay rent, buy food, clothes and other necessities.
It is very important for people to understand this. Refugees are forced to commit crime. It is typically not their character. They did not come here to be criminals. For example I need money to pay rent. I moved into a windowless room in Mongkok the size of a single bed. I cannot keep a fridge inside and it cost 2000 HK$. I told my ISS-HK caseworker that he must pay the full amount because I cannot work. He refused saying that 1500$ was the maximum and I had to find the rest myself. Suffering these indignity day in and day inflicts a deep wound on our sense of identity.
When I analyze the problem, I realize that it is political and hard to explain people like the student. She thinks that most refugees are economic migrants as that is what she read. She has been exposed to government propaganda that protects vested interests and does not respect the rights of non-citizens. It is hard for people who didn’t suffer state violations to understand state protection failures.
When you meet somebody in Hong Kong within five minutes they ask, “What is your job?” They are appraising your net-worth, how much money you make. Socrates said that first you have to teach citizens values. Hong Kong should create worthy people, not just release them into a capitalistic battlefield where they fight against each other for a piece of the pie. Citizens should learn about social values and appreciated that every person is valuable, even refugees. That’s how I see it.