My name is Rashid and I am Pakistani refugee in Hong Kong since early 2009. After five years of waiting Immigration still hasn’t started interviewing me, what they are waiting for I don’t know. I want to share with you the real and true feeling of what happened to me in Hong Kong.
In my country I ran my own medicine company and worked with surgeons in hospital operating theaters. After my problems started and my government failed to protect me, I had no choice but to flee Pakistan and I took refuge in Hong Kong where I have been waiting for my future.
I was held for 36 hours in police custody, then sent to Immigration detention at CIC Tuen Mun, from where I was released a week later with recognizance paper. The day I was bailed out they took my signature on a document and warned me that asylum seekers cannot do any kind of work or whatever job, even part-time for two or three hours. I signed in agreement.
After release I still had some money in my pocket which I spent to take a room in Yuen Long for 1000$ a month. Actually the room should not be called a room for humans. I think also a middle class dog in Hong Kong has a nicer place to sleep. But it is OK because dog luck and my luck are not same!
I bought some Halal food and ate. After one day rest in my room I learnt about the Social Welfare Department for refugee assistance and went there to register. They told me as soon as we call, you come, but even one and two months later they don’t call me. My money was finished in one week, but I could not do any work or job. I met some kind people who helped me for a while.
I had to borrow money which I could not repay. My friends’ help also finished, because two months passed already and I never received any call from SWD. I paid home rent, two months deposit, my food, water, clothes, my everything I needed. Shortly everything was finished and I felt very desperate how to live. Then I lost my room because I didn’t have money and slept in the Yuen Long Park like a dog.
I remember my business in Pakistan, my doctor friends and the good life I had before trouble take everything away from my life. I am not a beggar. I am not a poor man before, but refugee in Hong Kong must be poor and must be beggar because cannot work to earn little money.
Two months after I came to Hong Kong I experience being poor and beggar. I had Immigration Paper but I no had any protection, any assistance, any money even to buy water. For the first time I felt shame about sleeping in park and drinking water from the public toilet with my hands, because in toilet nobody put glass for beggar to drink. This is great shame as Muslim is not allowed to drink or eat anything relate to toilet! I always pray to the Mercy of God forgive me about those days.
My Dear Reader, you think how many refugees no have food for many days, no have water to drink, no have home for sleep, no washing powder for clothes, no brush to clean teeth! Some people say we have better life here than our country!
Even after three months already I was homeless, hungry, no shave, dirty clothes, if you see me you think “This is terrorist people!” But I am not bad person, I am an Immigration Recognizance holder for the last six years and still I am suffering in your city. I have pain in my heart. And this pain I will keep it forever in my heart even if I have to leave Hong Kong. Better I got to 15th floor and jump down and finish this pain in my heart because Hong Kong is very pitiless to refugees and make us like beggar.
Now I appeal to all human rights persons, to respectful people, to Refugee Union to save our future and life in Hong Kong. Stop the unlawful detention! Stop the mental torture of refugees! Stop refusing 100% of asylum case! Not one Pakistani asylum seeker win Torture Claim since 1992 when the refugee system start! How is possible that 100% Pakistani asylum case is not true?
The law system force refugees to do crime. How they can survive without assistance and without job? But when mentally tortured and physically abandoned, then bad comes our way and attract us every day. Because, by my Good and Merciful God, I tell you that good people become bad people under this situation. Hong Kong is a beautiful city on this planet, but it is dark and ugly for refugees.
My Dear Reader, please think of the young men and women who take refuge in your great city. You think, if nothing they have, no protection, no future, not enough assistance, no work. What will they do? Their many years waiting amount to zero. So what will they do? What is worse? To do suicide? To do crime? Or to do work? But even to do work is to do crime in this great city.
For almost three months I am homeless before the Refugee Union help me. I think of the law. I think of the system. I read the Immigration Ordinance Cap 115 that force me into a walking prison. I am homeless. I have no food, no money, no work. If I do job, the police catch me and put me three years in prison.
However, if I sell the illegal DRUGS it is so easy to make 1000$ tonight. If police catch me I can easy bail out from police station. But if refugee WORK, then even court bail can never get! My Good and Merciful God, how will I buy food today? How will I pay for shelter tonight?
If I sell DRUGS it is easy money. Even if go jail, in small drugs case only get 4 months sentence. But if refugee WORK, it is big crime in Hong Kong, the court will give you 18 months jail and then go back to Immigration detention for 3 months. Is this a fair and justice system?
So my Respectful Reader, which normal people choose 18 months jail better than 4 months jail? In the same situation like refugee, I think everybody will choose to do the crime with the more money and the less jail. Also the good person become bad person because the Chinese gangster come every day to knock on our door to make us be part of their gang system, or they threaten and beat us.
Refugee need legal work to protect their life in Hong Kong. The system doesn’t allow employment so the unlawful work can make people do crime. Even doctors say that people, especially young people, need exercise and activity. Work can be free work, like NGO work, but years and years of doing nothing can open the door to do crime.
Please tell me the law, the system does not want me to be suicide, or do illegal work, or sell and use drugs.
From the Refugee Union Facebook on 18 December 2014
On 15 December 2014 the Refugee Union members gathered for our weekly meeting at our office. From 2:00pm we started to share and exchange views and ideas. It’s an important forum where every member gets an opportunity to talk about issues affecting them. Members lament about their frustrations, inadequate rental assistance, unfair treatment from ISS and its food contractors who continue to cheat and ‘reduce’ our food allowance. Others have problems with accessing quality health care. It’s shocking to hear how doctors prescribe Panadol to sick refugee patients no matter the illness.
This Monday was a very special day for us members of the Refugee Union. This is the day that we unanimously endorsed and adopted the Refugee Union Constitution. We wrote history again. This means that in the history of Hong Kong we are the first refugee group to write and adopt a constitutional document. We do not have identity cards or any legal standing in this society. We have been issued with Recognizance papers that many people, even in government offices, don’t seems to know what’s they are. But we had the courage to come together and take a new path.
“This Constitution is the most progressive document I have ever seen”, said a refugee from West Africa. “It captures all our aspirations as group of people”, he continued. We do not have any legal status in this country, we are nobody. Hong Kong Immigration refuses to grant many of our members any protection and with that legal status. The majority of asylum cases are rejected on flimsy grounds and technicalities, therefore we are not able to secure employment for ourselves, open a bank account or even borrow a book from the library. We experience life at its most pitiless.
But in February 2014 refugees came together and opened an UMBRELLA in protest in the office of ISS before these humble instruments became a symbol of protest. And today we are united behind our first constitution. The struggle continues, brothers and sisters!
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!
My name is Jakir and I am an African refugee in Hong Kong. I wish to congratulate the Refugee Union for registering as a society!
On 20th October 2014 history was written when the police issued a certificate for the registration of the “Refugee Union” as a society. The first of its kind in Hong Kong. Nothing like this has ever happened before in the history of the city, where underprivileged and unrecognized group would seek recognition through the Societies Ordinance and be granted approval.
This was a great and a significant achievement for us refugees, despite several months of waiting and uncertainty. It is a major success for asylum seekers and refugees with the Hong Kong Government who has consistently and deliberately marginalized, oppressed and criminalized us for decades by denying our most basic social and human rights as a form of deterrence.
The Government, in the name of helping the refugees, provides an inadequate welfare system that is grossly flawed, riddled with ineptitude and possibly corruption. The inhumane policies perpetrated by the government have not dampened the hope and ingenuity of the refugee community. We continue to fight for better policies and treatment from the Hong Kong society despite the odds.
The food assistance offered to refugees (two bags of dodgy groceries we collect every ten days) is meant to demean, humiliate, control and manipulate our minds. This policy has achieved the opposite result by hardening us and making the refugees more confrontational. It is time for the Government to abolish a pointless system that widely abused by the shop owners and staff.
The rental assistance is far from enough to secure refugees a decent housing. In fact it criminalizes 8000 refugees forced illegally to work to pay our rent balance every month. We people are forced to live in shared accommodation where there is no privacy, others live in makeshift containers and chicken huts and greedy landlords squeeze us for money all the time.
These two cruel, dangerous programs are not the “humanitarian assistance” the Government sells them as being. Far from it; they deprived refugee of human dignity and respect with an aim to make us suffer so we abandon hope for protection and leave Hong Kong! We do not have any choices in our life here. It’s a life of survival of the fittest, as our mind, body and soul waste away without a glimmer of hope. And that is why many people want to join the Refugee Union.
On Monday the 3rd of November the newly registered Refugee Union threw a celebration party to mark its inception and successes so far. Ove the afternoon and evening, scores of members visited our office and rooftop in Sai Ying Pun to joyously celebrate in style. There was delicious food from different countries and plenty of cold drinks to rejoice this remarkable occasion.
Refugee Union members were very excited and expressed their joy and achievement with well-deserved pride. The gathering rekindled past memories with nostalgia, when we successfully organized and executed well planned protests and occupations to push for better policies for the entire refugee community.
This was a meaningful moment: the brotherly love, support and understanding between us was palpable, there for all to see on our faces. The laughter and encouragement that the members offered each other was telling. In the words of an African colleague, “We lost everything escaping here, but we gained a new family in the Refugee Union, people who care and help each other like brothers and sisters. Even more than brothers and sisters as here we struggle together!”
It was indeed a defining moment for us refugees. From then on we all agreed that things will never be the same again. During this evening we took stock of our achievements and pledged to consolidate gains by putting plans into action and laid down a new strategy on the way forward.
In the coming year the Refugee Union will strive to raise its profile, while at the same time become the defining voice of all the refugees and asylum seekers in Hong Kong as untied we pursue recognition and respect for our basic social and human rights.
We already have a big and spacious office where we meet, exchange experiences and ideas, plan and offer hope and encouragement to one another. This was truly a wonderful moment for the refugee community. This will definitely be a game changer in refugee relations with the community.
All refugees, supporters and friends are always welcome to visit us at 3F, 102 First Street, Sai Ying Pun.
United we stand against our oppressors!
On 20 October 2014, a group of determined refugees achieved a significant result when the Refugee Union, conceptualized in January 2014, was successfully registered in accordance with the provisions of section 5A(1) of the Societies Ordinance.
The Chief Executive of the HKSAR appointed the Commissioner of Police to be the Societies Officer and the Police Licensing Office for the first time registered a society of individuals holding Immigration Recognizance Forms and subject to removal orders. It is reported that other groups of protection claimants are already following the steps of these pioneers.
From the early days of Occupy ISS-HK, the Refugee Union overcame many challenges as it developed its identity around a vision to become a union of protection claimants in Hong Kong that aims to safeguarding refugee rights and improving the protection, wellbeing and future prospects of all refugees.
Shunned by some refugees it is indeed highly appreciated by many others whose voice, given today’s asylum policies, we can only assume have long been unheard by policy-makers and non-refugee advocates. Today the Refugee Union promote self-reliance, empowerment and active participation in matters shaping the asylum sphere according to the highest standards of human rights.
After months of preparation, the Refugee Union is the first refugee-led society in Hong Kong. While similar examples exist among migrant workers, it is in our view troubling that this achievement was never attempted in the past. Perhaps the time was not ripe. This is however only one victorious step in a long journey that will last years, if not decades. Most of the work to strengthen the base and structure of union has just begun and demands sincere collaboration.
The Refugee Union is a positive development that will tests the maturity of members to think and act for the greater good of the entire community – collectively, altruistically and outside the usual third-party networks. The road ahead will not be smooth, but the excitement recorded in the hours following the announcement of the registration promises goodwill and widespread support.
What is next? Much has been learnt from challenges overcome since January, with important lessons already reflected in the Constitution currently being drafted. For example, instead of having a Chairman, members will appoint Councilors in three Committees that will balance authority and handle all matters relating to the society and members’ duties and responsibilities.
With the logistical support of Vision First, an independent office has been equipped at 102 First Street where members can meet daily to discuss problems and formulate actions to accomplish short and long term objectives. The Refugee Union will prioritize securing resources to sustain itself and become a leading voice to influence policies and practices that affect the entire refugee community, reported to be 8000 strong.
In September 2013, Bassirou fled deadly trouble in Niger to seek sanctuary in Hong. His ISS-HK file was opened at the Mongkok office in October, when his struggle with case worker Lok Lam commenced.
For eight months he complained to his case worker that his room was unfit for living. Bassirou is 180cm tall while the space for his mattress is 160cm long, which forces him to fold his legs to sleep. The room has no window and ventilation is a problem as he suffers from asthma.
During recent thunderstorms, the ceiling of this top floor room was flowing with rain. The cracks in the roof are so significant that one afternoon all his belongings were soaked in water. Recently three of the other five ISS clients left these crumbling premises.
The six refugees shared a subdivided flat with one toilet bowl, no bathroom or kitchen. However, Bassirou sells his food rations, not for lack of a kitchen, but because Lok Lam arbitrarily refused to provide cooking gas since October 2013. In eight months his never received toiletries either.
Bassirou sells his food for bus money. He gets 300$ for a 1200$ monthly allocation. Who keeps 900$?
When asked how he eats, Bassirou explains, “I am a man. I am strong. I put my life in God’s hands. My food is to write. My eating is my memory for everything wrong that ISS did to me. One day they will pay for everything.”
On 14 May 2013, Bassirou blasted his case worker, “You have salary. You have money for your room. You have money to eat. Everything you have, so why you don’t want to help me? Why you don’t pay for my room? Why you don’t give me gas? Why you change my food? Why you give me rubbish food?”
Lok Lam stumbled, “ISS doesn’t have money to deliver food to all people. Everyone who takes the food sells it to the Pakistani who stand outside the shops.” [N.B. Refugee are forced to sell substandard, unwanted food to buy what they really require.]
Lok Lam repeatedly instructed Bassirou to buy cooking gas and present a receipt for refund. But Bassirou was furious, “Are you crazy? How do I pay for gas, if I don’t work? I told you that I have no money to buy anything! Where I get the money?”
When Lok Lam explained, “ISS doesn’t have money to pay you gas,” Bassirou interrupted, “You mean that ISS doesn’t have little money to buy gas, but has big money to pay lawyers to take Vision First to court? So … no money for refugees, but only money for lawyers?”
Bassirou lambasted is case worker, “Before I don’t like to give you problem, but now I am very angry because I know ISS is an organization for corruption. I have many proof. You can take me to court and I will talk to the judge.”
Lok Lam concluded in frustration, “If you want to go to court, you go to court. I don’t care!”
Instead of accepting Bassirou’s request to rent a modest 3000$ flat in Tokwawan, Lok Lam advised him to move into a guesthouse in Mirador Mansion instead. This temporary solution would cost ISS-HK, and therefore Hong Kong tax-payers, about 9000$ a month – three times more than the flat.
Lok Lam described the absurd policy, “ISS will not pay 3000$ for your room, as your rent assistance is 1500$. But if you go to the guesthouse, we can pay [300$] every night and you don’t worry about rent.”
Vision First is concerned about the irresponsible disbursement of public funds entrusted to ISS-HK. What rational supports the settling of refugees in guesthouses that cost three times more than basic flats?
In a separate case a family of three was placed for several months in a guesthouse at 18,000$ a month before they secured a 4500$ apartment. Such irrational squandering raises doubts about ISS-HK financial accountability and the Social Welfare Department’s oversight.
Does somebody besides guesthouse owners benefit from such extravagance?