My name is Seed and I come from West Africa. I was a livestock trader before political and tribal violence drove me off ancestral land in 2001, and eventually to a city I knew little about and never imagined I would come to. In 2004 I applied for political asylum with the UNHCR. I faced a long wait for a response to my claim and have been barred from working since I arrived. It was a long time before I heard from the UNHCR. Finally, I was called in and they just handed me a letter stating my application for refugee status had been rejected without a reason. They informed me I had two weeks to appeal the decision. So I did. It took them many months to reply, then they notified me my file had been permanently closed. I asked them why? And I answered to myself it would be easier were I born in East Africa or Somalia, but since I’m West African it’s hopeless to be accepted as a refugee in Hong Kong. There is no transparency at the UNHCR in Hong Kong and that was the worst year I ever experienced in my life!
The UN office processes asylum applications here without coordination with the government to address the time lag between a typical claim and the length of a valid visa, meaning many are forced to overstay their visa and end up in jail. I went to Immigration to organize my situation regarding my UNHCR application. But they didn’t give me a chance, so I had to become an over-stayer. I slept outside, at the Star Ferry pier for three long years, dodging police raids and sheltering in cardboard boxes. Life in Hong Kong is very difficult because I am alone, I don’t know anybody. I can’t work. I don’t have any civil rights or freedom. I’m like a prisoners, just that my prison is outside in the streets. I continued like this until 2007 when a social worker told me that, following demonstrations against the jailing without cause of asylum-seekers, the government had stopped this harsh practice. They confirmed that anyone with proper asylum seeking documents would only be kept in detention for a short period of time. Therefor I surrendered with my passport and files. For two weeks I was detained, but because I entered Hong Kong legally, they could not hold me too long. When I was released the immigration officers told me to see a social welfare officer. I went to ISS (International Social Services) and filled out the forms for some rent assistance – the same 1000 HKD a month since 2005!
Still now every month I must go to sign at Immigration and I don’t imagine I will ever get CAT refugee status, because of the problems with the UNHCR. If only there were a chance the government offered me a future - by guaranteeing me legal status to start my life – that is all I desire. I came here to seek protection from the tragedies I escaped and I’m not dreaming to be resettled in the States or Canada. After six years struggling, haven’t I earned the right to rebuild my life? Why rob me of the rest?
(Photo courtesy of SoCo)
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.
This program aired on TVB’s “PEARL REPORT” on 29 August 2010. It is a compelling look into pro-bono work offered by the legal community to those who don’t qualify for the Duty Lawyer System (in the lower courts) or for Legal Aid (in the upper courts with claims greater than $50,000.) While this program focuses on the legal profession, we note PRO-BONO is short for the Latin expression “Pro Bono Publico” which means “for the public good” and describes professional work undertaken voluntarily and without remuneration by anyone.
At Vision First there is a team of lawyers, doctors, psychologist, dentists, teachers and others who passionately serve our clients in the name of social justice – which guarantees to all the rights that flow from their dignity as human beings. This dignity we share equally requires all to participate in efforts to reduce social and economic inequalities, leading ultimately to a greater public good.
Check out the report at http://mytv.tvb.com/news/pearlreport/110901/?ref=nf#page-1
I realized my notion of refugees was still equated with the Vietnamese boat-people who fled to Hong Kong over 20 years ago. I hadn’t the slightest idea there are political refugees living in our city. Occasionally I read in newspapers how Christians are abused in remote countries in Africa, then I would sigh and feel bad for a moment, but would forget all about it as I turn to the next page. But these families are real people here. Vision First briefed me on their outreach work and shared stories of their clients’ misery and dangerous flight from their home countries. My heart sank, but at the same time I was touched by what they have done for them. With the funds from donors, they place them in decent homes with basic furniture and supplies, they pay for basic expenses like electricity, water, medicines and transportation. That was only laying the groundwork, as now they worries about the refugee children who are allocated a space in local schools, but don’t have money for transportation, books or lunch. With just the bare minimum to survive each day, it becomes impossible for these parents to send their kids to school.
When I heard Vision First needs sponsors to help with the children’s education, I responded immediately and was assigned to help a Congolese family in Hong Kong with three kids. Though I am not involved with the voluntary work of Vision First, I feel much closer to this charity now that I have learned more about the clients it serves. With a monthly sponsorship of 1000 HKD, I feel good not only that I am helping this family but also I know 100% of my donation is given directly to them. As promised, nothing is deducted and every expense is recorded and signed for. I wish to share with you these feelings and experience, because it might inspire you to also join this program. I couldn’t help but write down my thoughts as the experience of meeting people whose life was threatened because of their belief, has helped me deepen my faith. It is also a great opportunity to plant the seed of compassion in our children, to help them learn from these underprivileged kids who only wish for a safe place to live and study. Because we are blessed with opportunity and choice, we are morally responsible to assist the helpless and, I believe, nobody is going to keep these kids’ life from shining!
We could blog about a rogue cop intimidating a refugee despite his UNHCR certificate …
We could blog about a mother struggling to buy books for her kids in school …
We could blog about the bugs and lice infesting a refugees’ room …
Instead – we’ll share a message received from a volunteer on a different issue:
“A Philippina friend hasn’t been paid by her employer for 15 months. Her contract will end soon. She may need help in representation. She waited so long due to low self-esteem, sense of powerlessness, selling her jewelry to survive and, until recently, a naive belief her employers would one day be fair, if she kept doing enough good for them. The last straw was when they said they wouldn’t pay her long service leave for her ten years service to them. Reason they said: “We need that money for our ten year old son’s future and have no money!” However, they then took a 3-week holiday in Japan, bought a 40-inch TV and a new car. My friend worked hard for them for a decade and continues to. She raised their child and made it possible for them to earn well as managers and go out continually, holiday regularly.Now they treat her like a slave that they own. It disturbs me! She wrote letters to them over the past months asking for her pay, explaining how hard life is for her, but each time they told her they were ‘Unable to help her’ – though what she claims is justly owed to her.”
Vision First has already introduced this lady to an NGO specializing in defending maids’ right and her employer will regret this abuse.Besides assisting the vulnerable, we are committed to raising community consciousness about issues of fairness, equality and social justice – wherever we encounter them – for this is the spirit which drives us. Nothing reflects our vision better than the masterful words Martin Luther King cried out: “No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a might stream!”
Dear Vision First - This is Maahir Quasim from Somalia, now am in Hong Kong about 2 weeks having been released from detention with Immigration document, I approached UNHCR and ISS. I did the registration for both of them but I have to still find a place to spend the night. I mean shelter! which they both couldn’t help me to find out. ISS have promised me to pay 1000 HK dollars for the rent to the landlord, but said we cannot find the room for you because it’s not their job. Moreover we will not pay any deposit for the room even though it’s rare today to find a room for 1000 HK dollars and impossible without deposit payment. I spent 2 week in Kauloon Park, waiting for UNHCR to call me. At night I sleep in little streets where I’m dry from the rain. Only 3 nights I slept in a landlord shop, introdused by the ISS who was supposed to give me a room and then failed in that because i don’t have any more money after selling my watch.
Therefore, I am helpless to find a shelter in Hong Kong being fled home Somalia where war destroyed my life. Even if i wanted to there is no way to go back as i don’t have passport and all my family is killed or scattered over there. I came here with no bersonal belongings so I cant help myself in no way. I am educated teacher, 27 years old guy and i can help your organization for a place to sleep. I got your contact from someone who seemed as a friend of you, he gave me your number and said Vision First can help refugees. I’m waiting to hear from you soon and I would really appreciate if you help me with now. God bless you – Maahir Quasim
A new website has launched, integrating the experiences, opinions, views and even complaints of our very own clients. This is what they have to say:
Seeking Refuge aims to help asylum seekers find refuge by fostering communication and community. We are a community website where asylum seekers in Hong Kong can make their voices heard, and a place where the general public can learn first-hand about the experiences and lives of asylum seekers residing in Hong Kong. In essence, SeekingRefuge.hk is a website that offers a ground level perspective on the very pertinent issue of asylum seeking. We follow this ideal strictly: all of the blogs on this website are written by asylum seekers. Seeking Refuge has a twofold objective:
a) provide a platform where asylum seekers may inform the general public about the current treatment and situation of asylum seekers in Hong Kong.
b) encourage the Hong Kong government, UNHCR and other relevant administrative bodies to take greater action in redressing the livelihood and future of asylum seekers in Hong Kong.
Here you go … click to check out what they have to say: www.seekingrefuge.hk
Hong Kong is a thriving society built by immigrants – including refugees – from almost all the countries in the world. Our community has always welcomed asylum seekers, providing them with temporary protection and emergency assistance, in spite of inadequate refugee legislation. Vision First is an NGO assisting those forced to flee their countries to escape persecution, violence and torture. These are desperate victims often unable to return to their home country for many years, if ever. In our second year of operation, we have established our volunteer organization as a caring, actively engaged and responsive service for over 200 clients. We have set up a dozen homes, run a year-long food program and provide advocacy and outreach services to our clients scattered throughout the territory from Hung Hom to Yung Long. Vision First takes pride in offering rapid solutions to daily life crises, as well as addressing protracted challenges of the medical, legal and educational kind. Through our continuous interactions, we are reminded that refugees have fled unimaginable horrors, sometimes suffering agonizing years before reaching safety. Most are victims of trauma or torture and all arrived with no personal belongings, after their families were attacked and assets plundered.
Forced against their will to embark on an exile for which they made no preparation, refugee families suddenly find themselves in a foreign community, without the means or connections to integrate. Since they are not allowed to work, despite being legal residents, they survive in a frustrating state of powerlessness. Once their meager savings are depleted, they seek support from our community, with the distressing realization that they are ineligible for social security assistance (CSSA) as non-permanent residents. Excluded from a familiar support network, they become prey to poverty and despair. This is especially so for those with children. Within a few months their dignity and self-worth are crushed with a devastating and enduring effect on their children, who are unable to cope with the social and economic void around them. Without sufficient means to support themselves these educated people live in substandard lodging and on the street. They rely on donations to meet their families’ basic needs.
Vision First is particularly concerned about the families with young children. These families need immediate financial assistance to protect them from further perils such as malnutrition, sickness and isolation. We have identified a number of families teetering on the edge of despair and – as a caring community – we must do whatever we can to stop their suffering. Seeking ongoing support for these children and parents, Vision First is launching the REFUGEE CHILD SPONSORSHIP program to directly link donor families with refugee families. This will enable our commitment to support these children so they can look towards the future with some optimism. To learn more about this special initiative and how you can make a tangible difference, please read the information below.
The aim of this program: Refugee Child Sponsorship APPEAL
How you can help: Refugee Child Sponsorship FORM
[From TIME magazine's article, published July 5th, 2010]
Kaienat, the daughter of Sayed and Sayeeda, may have come into this world as a refugee. Haweeya, a 20-year-old woman from Mogadishu, Somalia, left the world as one. On a late-January morning in central Jakarta, a group of Somali men stood around her freshly dug grave in Karet Bivak cemetery, molding clumps of red earth to make a pillow for her head. A few women hung back and watched them lift her body, swathed in white, off a metal gurney. Three years ago, Haweeya, whose name has been changed for privacy reasons, fled Somalia’s chronic internecine warfare and ended up in Indonesia, where she was granted refugee status by the small Jakarta office of the UNHCR. A childhood bout of polio had left her frail and on crutches. Her condition worsened in early January, and she was admitted to hospital. Before her doctors could figure out what was wrong, Haweeya died. The waiting place became, for her, the final resting place.
For millions of refugees and asylum seekers, surviving the crushing isolation of that wait is a daily feat. Before her roommate Haweeya was buried, 19-year-old Haboou Abdilahi sat outside the hospital morgue in a long black dress and headscarf. Abdilahi, who also has UNHCR refugee status, held her friend’s U.N. refugee card and paperwork in her lap, trying at the same time to pay respects while not looking at Haweeya’s corpse on a metal table six feet away, thin chin and shoulders jutting up from under the cotton shroud. When asked where in Jakarta she lived, Abdilahi replied, “Me and Haweeya live together.” A moment of confusion passed over her face and she shook her head. And then, “I live alone.”