After five years of deep emotional and economic suffering in Hong Kong, on 15 January 2015 Ali was rushed to the hospital with pain in his chest. He recalls, “The medical officer informed me that one of my heart vessels is blocked. They (need to perform an) angioplasty to fix a stent in the blocked vain. But I have to pay 20,000 HK$ myself as the stent is not available from the hospital (free for refugees). I told him that due to my status, it is not possible for me to pay such a huge amount … ISS case worker and UNHCR said sorry that we do not have funds for that purpose.”
Who is Ali? Ali is a 62 year-old recognized refugee from Pakistan in Hong Kong since January 2010. He spent several winters freezing in a container abandoned in a Kam Tin recycling yard. In the summer his home became unbearably hot. Before rental deposits were introduced for refugees, Ali accepted such limited hospitality from residents offering temporary shelter. By living in a possible illegal work place, the Pakistani defied the common assumption that his countrymen abused asylum to work in Hong Kong.
For five years, Vision First followed closely Ali’s asylum experiences in our inhospitable city.
Ali feels betrayed by Hong Kong’s promises of protection, “In January 2010 I left my country, business, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, friends and relatives hoping that Hong Kong Government and UNHCR will appreciate our sacrifices in the war against terrorism by opening their hearts and help us in standing again on our feet. But all our expectations were ruined by the different functionaries of the government and UNHCR.”
In May 2011 the Immigration Department rejected Ali’s torture claim at appeal. He was stoically terse, “It is a childish decision!” The rejection by UNHCR in December 2012 was traumatizing, as it crushed his trust in the international agency. When Legal Aid rejected his application to judicially review his CAT rejection, the disheartened family man hit rock bottom. Sick and depressed, Ali seemed on the verge of giving up more than his bid for asylum. In those dark days, only family thoughts kept him going, “I have many burdens with my family. How can I help them? The whole family is looking to me. They are stuck. They want to know when they can come and join me.”
Conspiracists might be forgiven for speculating about the baffling backpedaling by UNHCR which unexpectedly confirmed his status as a refugee on 29 April 2014. It might not be a coincidence that Ali’s lawyers had reversed the Legal Aid decision and prepared a well-document, arguable case that might have forced Immigration to reconsider its decision. Ali suspects that the government put pressure on UNHCR to resolve his claim and stop legal proceedings.
At the time he was hospitalized, Ali was informed that since his condition had not reached a ‘life threatening state’, the hospital could not proceed with free surgery and he would have to pay for the stent himself. Five years in limbo without the right to work dilapidated Ali personal resources. Today he is truly destitute. ISS-HK referred him to SWD which unempathically stated that they would not pay until his condition deteriorated.
Let’s face it. Ali has been treated poorly from the day he arrived and was reduced to living in a shipping container for years. His family was displaced and fell from relative prosperity to grim poverty. Now Ali spends the days bedridden in a room that appears to be an illegal structure. He is afraid his heart will fail overnight. He hardly dares to walk outside for fear of collapsing in the street, which ironically might be the only chance he has to receive the necessary surgery.
Hospitals, ISS-HK and SWD kick away responsibility like a ball. Is it reasonable to ask a sick refugee to raise money himself to save his life despite being granted international protection? What meaning does the status of refugee carry for UNHCR, ISS-HK, SWD and the government? Who will be held accountable in a worst case scenario for such absurd conditions of institutional punitive confinement? Hong Kong should step up and honor Ali’s protection with the peace of mind and wellbeing it ought to entail.