I have been a refugee in Hong Kong for more than ten years. I struggle to survive with my family without the right to work. I beg for assistance here and there. I suffer discrimination daily because of government policies that turn society against refugees and poison local minds. I will not be defeated.
Since 2013 there has been a steady shift towards empowerment, countering a decade of suppression during which some people wanted to touch our minds and make us sleep. They told us to keep quiet and trust they worked for us. Today many refugees are speaking up for their rights. I welcome this change because nobody can fight and stand for refugees better than we can together.
Only we refugees know our suffering, the agony of years wasted without hope and without future. We need to take the first steps and mobilize before support will come from right and left. The changes we witnessed in the last two years did not come without struggle, protest and demands.
Dear Refugees, we can no longer sit and expect NGOs to perform on our behalf, because their actions are limited by different concerns that ours. We need to have courage and stand for our rights. We must take our destiny in our hands and push for the change we demand for ourselves and our children.
Hong Kong government encourages NGOs to calm down the tension of refugees, so that Immigration can conduct unfair justice and psychologically damage our hearts and discourage us from seeking asylum. How many brothers and sisters were threatened in CIC until they gave up and left? How many refugees were told they were not welcome?
Dear Brothers and Sisters, no one can feel the pain we suffer, not even the doctors who want to cure us. They may guess how much we are suffering, but they cannot feel our pain. People can say “I understand you”, but they do not. Only you know the pain inside your heart.
To be a refugee is not a crime as government propaganda repeats. Refugees are people who are forced to flee their country due to persecution, whether on an individual basis, or as part of a mass exodus following political, religious or military problems. Anyone can end up in our shoes and millions have through human history.
Action is needed today, not tomorrow. Let us come together as one for a better future.
I remember the time in 2011 when I first joined a Cantonese class at Vision First. The first week everything was OK and our teacher was Owen, who is now a TV reporter. The next week he was absent. We all thought he was late.
Then the manager Danielle (co-founder of VF) said: “If your teacher isn’t here in five minutes, the class will be cancelled and you can come back next week”. We were all disappointed as learning Cantonese is essential to live in Hong Kong.
I remember it was a Friday. Suddenly something told me to say: “Let me try!” I told Danielle: “If the teacher couldn’t make it, don’t let people go home disappointed. Please allow me to teach today.” The staff at Vision First discussed my offer and joked, “Abel, Abel! You can only teach French, not Cantonese!”
I insisted they let me try once and they allowed me. After the end of an hour teaching, I was surprised when the students stood up and clapped. I told myself that day: “I can do this!” Afterwards some students reported to Danielle and asked that I teach every week, or at least be the replacement teacher.
The following week Owen returned and was aware about my success the previous week. He asked if I would be available once a week to teach a class, because we had two Cantonese class weekly. Later, he assigned me to teach both lessons, so he could teach Mandarin instead.
I have been in Hong Kong over a decade and I am fluent in Cantonese. More time went by and some organizations heard about me and wanted to see the BLACK MAN born in Africa teaching Cantonese to fellow refugees.
Recently, members of Global Youth Connect and their Hong Kong affiliate “Breakthrough” came to follow my class. At the end, they were amazed and one of them was even moved to tears.
For a few months I have taught the Cantonese class for the Refugee Union and I believe my students are proud of me. This is my story of service. What is yours?
I am an African refugee who has been stuck in Hong Kong for 10 years. I am saddened by the articles I read about crimes committed by refugees. I am sad for the reporters who write these reports without checking the background. What about welfare that pays half our living costs? What about jailing us for working without proper permits? Should we beg in the streets with our children?
Some refugees are helped by NGOs, churches and benefactors, but frankly most don’t get a single charitable cent. The opposite is happening in Europe and it should put pressure on Hong Kong Government. Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Norway, Sweden and the UK are welcoming and supporting more refugees than ever before. Even Switzerland that was considered unwelcoming, is issuing more protection visas this year.
First of all, refugees are also human beings. Whatever situation we are escaping – and I won’t judge others – we are not talking about some animals, but people like you. Today we need international help, tomorrow it could be you. Readers should remember that refugees are not dangerous per se, but governments put refugees in dangerous situations.
Besides, it is not only refugees who act badly, but also local people. The French were saying that more Frenchmen are gangsters than refugees. Don’t say that because one refugees is a criminal than all refugees are criminal. The world news network is focusing on refugees. People cannot pretend that nothing is happening. Now is a good time to join our voices to raise awareness.
It’s disappointing that Hong Kong repeats the tired and empty excuse: “We are a very small place, we cannot take refugees”. That has been a pretext for 20 years of doing next to nothing to protect refugees in a city that has a negative growth rate and has hardly seen its population grow. What difference would welcoming 10, 20 or 100 refugees a year make to a population of 7 million?
The fact is Hong Kong has accepted 37 refugees out of about 20,000 asylum seekers since 1992 – that is less than 2 a year! The government is showing that they have the money to give us food, but they don’t want to give us protection and freedom. They don’t want to free our mind. If you give a man food, but you are not giving him a future, you are not helping, but destroying him. Until when are you going to feed him?
In Hong Kong there are human rights organization that know how refugees are abused. They should be saying something about the injustice. They should challenge the government to receive refugees. Greece asked for help. Italy asked for help. They admit they cannot handle the crisis. Can’t Hong Kong admit that they have a problem and ask for help? The little boy died and the world cried, but how many refugees are dying in Hong Kong of maltreatment and nobody is saying anything?
What makes a man a man is not food. What makes a man feel the freedom of being a human being on Earth is to express himself in many ways. They say that refugees are “coming to take”, but that is the fearful reaction of bigots who don’t want to think deeply. Nobody is coming to take aid from anyone.
The truth is that refugees can make the economic cake bigger, so that everyone can have more. Germany realizes that many citizens are becoming old and soon will not be productive. They understand that welcoming young and hardworking refugees will grow the economy and then increase taxes to make the country stronger. They are planning smartly for the future.
Hong Kong thinks that they are preserving the jobs of locals. They do not understand that refugees will generate more business, trade and employment for everyone. Hong Kong says “We are already big”, but other countries want to grow and prosper, they do not stop and say we are big enough. Maybe in 20 years they will understand that HK citizens don’t want to have babies, they just want to enjoy.
This is exactly what is happening in Japan that is suffering an old-age crisis. Japan is giving visa to Africans to come to work. There are more elders there than workers and they need to welcome others to help. The Japanese don’t want menial jobs, they want nice jobs, so they are making robots and accepting others for manpower and growth.
The truth is that there is a cultural selfishness in Hong Kong that blocks it from welcoming others. If they wanted to help, they could. If they wanted to change policies, they could. If they wanted to sign the Refugee Convention, they could. If they want to give us proper welfare, they could. We were homeless before we protested and got rental assistance. We were hungry before we protested and got food rations. We protested a rotten system and got food coupons. We were living in slums before we protested and got deposits and agency fees paid. Were these problems impossible to foresee and solutions hard to provide?
Hong Kong needs to help vulnerable people without focusing on economics, skin colour or country of origin. We should help human beings on Earth, not just those offering obvious economic benefits. This ought to be elementary for people to understand. The only way for others to recognize that you are strong is demonstrating it through action.
If Hong Kong people feel that they are so rich and strong, there is no need to be afraid to give the right to work to asylum seeker. I think this will make them stronger in the future. We need to look further than the now. Refugees will not take your jobs. Refugees will expand the economy, create employment, make a stronger generation and bring diversity and resilience to Hong Kong
I left my country in Africa. I was working in China when great danger started and I could not return home. I became a refugee sur place. I came to Hong Kong in January 2014, when I entered with a two-week visa. I sought asylum when my permit expired. It was very hard.
I struggle for everything alone and without knowing the system. I went to NGOs to get help. I followed Vision First and they helped me a lot. It is important to assist others and I have always helped fellow refugees when I had the opportunity, knowing how lost we feel at the start of the asylum process.
It is very difficult for refugees to survive in Hong Kong because we cannot work. The assistance we receive in rent and food is far from enough. The rooms where we live are in very poor condition. The government is not doing its part to assist refugees who look for a safe place in this city.
I am one of the lucky ones and this is my story. Two months ago I left Hong Kong and returned a few days later, the second time in less than two years. At the Immigration counter I presented a Dependent Visa and was allowed one year stay with the right to work!
What a huge difference it makes! The first time I arrived, the future was very dark and I didn’t know what would happen. Now I am smiling with great joy and hope as Hong Kong welcomes me. Work, honest and legal work, is what all refugees need to survive and keep their mental sanity.
The difference is that a year ago I married my lovely Chinese wife and recently our application for a dependent visa was approved. The visa allowed me to change my status from “USM claimant” (= unwelcome) to “Dependent Visa” (=welcome). Honestly, I realize how lucky I was that my destiny was marked by remarkable events that changed the course of life.
On 13 March 2014, two months after I first arrived, I heard that refugees were fighting for their rights through a public demonstration at the Government House, in Central. I joined with great expectation as it was my first demonstration. I realized that refugees were not treated fairly during the processing time of our claims. I learnt that some refugees were waiting over 10 years for a decision by Immigration.
I was proud to march in the front line. I was not scared. I remember that a journalist asked me, “Why you are not scared? Why don’t you cover your face?” I answered, “Why should I be scared? These are my rights and I need to fight for them!” If things are wrong and must be changed, people must stand up and fight for the change they want. In life you cannot hide to be counted.
I have always felt very strongly about human rights. People are oppressed all over the world and also here in Hong Kong, where society does not allow some social groups to live with dignity – among these are my refugee brothers and sisters. For this reason I now promote and supported the Refugee Union, and encourage its members to be strong and united. Despite finally getting legal status, I can’t forget my experiences and hope that our struggle will be successful.
I wish to thank those people who supported and encouraged me from the beginning. I have always trusted my fate that life would work out well, but without my friends’ support it would not have been possible. Hong Kong people are wonderful people. We might disagree about the government and its policies, but many ordinary people I met treat me like a friend and some like family.
Finally I wish to thank my wonderful wife for her trust, love and support that changed my life. My two years in Hong Kong have been unique, from the depths of depression when I lost my future, to the love and joy with my new family. I look forward to landing on my feet and offering support to other refugees struggling on this journey. I love to help people and believe God helps those who help others.
Hello, this is Outsider. I’m writing again because I find that the article published by The Standard on 5 October 2015 is misleading, as it mixes up the issues of seeking asylum and seeking employment. The reporter writes about dodgy agencies in India that promise work though asylum visas. The featured website claims, “Hong Kong Asylum Visa.”
As a refugee I am deeply disappointed with the government propaganda broadcasted by the media reporting illegal activities by refugees who are then called indistinctly: illegal immigrants, criminals, job seekers and abusers of the asylum system. The Immigration Department is always ready to make press releases when it arrests claimants working (link).
Some people consider the above to be true. Some people get angry and try to advocate and defend refugees. In interviews, journalists should ask more revealing questions. For example, they should ask: Why are some refugees forced to work? Why do some refugees commit crimes? Why do some refugees get involved with drugs? I hear many advocates answer with reasons about the lack of government assistance, including the biggest problem: high rents in Hong Kong.
It seems to me that many fail to grasp the bigger picture. Is it possible that the wrong questions are asked and the wrong answers given? There is no doubt that government propaganda is winning the day, by shifting the focus on a small minority of refugee caught breaking the law.
But are we the real problem? Would the problem be solved and the debate end, if no refugee ever committed a crime (NB: working illegally is criminalized)? Are refugees the root of the problem, or is the system a problem? Is stopping refugees from working and committing crimes the answer to wasting hundreds of millions of dollars in the failed welfare/legal system?
To repeat, working illegally, committing crimes, joining gangs and pushing drugs are the external, visible symptoms of the illness which is the failed USM and welfare system. The real question is why journalists are not researching and reporting on the failed USM and the welfare/legal ramifications?
Is it possible to heal the illness by just treating the symptoms? Can the truth be uncovered by asking the wrong questions? What are the underlying problems that government propaganda is avoiding?
People who wish to understand the big picture might ask: Why did two thousand Vietnamese who were working illegally, recently applied for asylum? Why are criminals and drug dealers masquerading as refugees? Why are dodgy employment agency offering “Asylum Visas”?
There is a subtle difference between asking these two questions: 1) Why are refugees working and 2) Why are illegal workers claiming asylum? For uncritical readers it is a question of semantics. For the government it demonizes refugees. For some citizens it is proof of abuse. For a refugee fleeing persecution, the difference is life and death and an unbearable life in Hong Kong.
It appears that the government is astutely orchestrating propaganda to cast refugees in a bad light and turn public opinion against the refugee community. I am worried that the constant negative reporting and Immigration press releases are brainwashing the public and generating a ‘push back’ sentiment that will unfairly harm refugees stuck in this hostile city. The article below should be titled “Twenty-two immigration offenders arrested – as 37 refugees offered protection out of 17,000 claimants since 1992″.
As an African refugee three years in Hong Kong, I appreciate the intertwining reasons why refugees escape to what they consider “safe havens” in developed countries. They are compelled to throw caution to the wind and embarked on life’s most dangerous journey.
According to media reports, they pay large sums to smugglers who have turned their misfortune into an opportunity to earn millions of USD across different channels. Let’s not forget that refugees are not assured of reaching the Promised Land (Europe) and over 3000 lost their lives in the Mediterranean Sea this year.
It’s not that we refugees don’t know the risks we are facing. But for the majority of us these are risk worth taking as our homeland is often more dangerous than the journey. It resonates with me when they say, “It is better to die trying to flee, than doing nothing!”
For spectators sitting in comfort, it may seem like an exaggeration. I have heard many comments being thrown around in Hong Kong about desperate migrants and refugees. Most critics and haters will never understand the HELL refugees suffer in their native countries. And this happens for a variety of reasons.
First, the government propaganda doesn’t make it easier for Hongkongers to appreciate the underlying issues motivating escape and the right to claim asylum. The government discourse disseminates biased, and sometimes ridiculous, information with a view to marginalize, dehumanize and criminalize refugees who exercise a fundamental human right.
Second, the local media does not cast us in good light. We are called parasites, criminals, economic migrants and abusers of asylum. It is no wonder that the acceptance rate for refugees in Hong Kong is 0.3%. Despite 1.5 million once being refugees, Hongkongers today (conveniently) believe that none of the current 10,000 asylum seekers deserve protection. How ironic!
Third, the status determination process is shrouded in such secrecy that refugees understand little about it. The onset of USM was welcomed with much skepticism by professionals in the asylum field. This is because the previous systems failed miserably in granting protection. One year on, the USM has a dubious reputation as a process that hoodwinks refugees and those believing Hong Kong offers fair screening. How hypocritical!
Though refugees crossing the dangerous waters of the Mediterranean are in great risk of losing their lives, nevertheless they are more likely to be protected if they make it to Europe. It is very unfortunate that this crisis is happening. Its occurrence is however hardly surprising. In this, Hong Kong insensitive response to the Syrian crisis is not ambiguous.
When the Western countries invaded and destabilized North Africa, under the guise of fighting terrorism through NATO, they destroyed structures that held diverse communities together. For example, Western powers armed militias to overthrow the former Libyan strongman Murmur Gaddafi. They provided arms, logistical support and technical advice until Gaddafi was terminated.
I believe this happened because Gaddafi did not play ball with, nor bow to Western influence in Africa. Instead he vigorously opposed neo-colonial policies and the modern globalisation that ensure that Western conglomerates continued to exploit African resources with minimal benefits for local populations. He was a great advocate of the United States of Africa. So am I.
Before Gaddafi was killed he was involved in major campaigns across the African continent to bring all the countries and people together. He also offered scholarships to tens of thousands of students, yearly. But his efforts and influence were not received well by Western powers. He was perceived as a big threat to their grasp on natural resources and corrupt leaders. With Gaddafi out of the way, the 400 year pillage of Africa by Western states continues … and refugees flow north.
As for Syria, the US should take all Syrian refugees home. The US wanted a regime change in Syria through undemocratic means. The world can clearly see the consequences of western military power. They invaded Iraq on the pretext that the country held Weapons of Mass Destruction and Iraq is today a shadow of its former self. Then the warmongers moved to Syria to topple the Assad regime.
The suffering, destruction and death brought to innocent people is unimaginable. It is high time that Western powers take responsibilities for their actions. It is convenient that the US is far removed from Libya, Syria and Iraq, otherwise the States would be the ideal destination for all displaced refugees. Some commentators are rightly blaming the West for destabilizing the region and creating the refugee crisis.
Are the chickens coming home to roost?
Frankly it was the most humiliating experience in my life. The alarm rang when I left a Wellcome store after buying some groceries. Two members of staff stopped me and asked to look inside my backpack. They busted me for not paying for black pepper, yogurt and an air-freshener – total valued $196.
They called the police and I was taken to the back office for a preliminary investigation, before being escorted to the police station where an interpreter was called to make a statement. I was detained overnight and released on bail the following evening with instruction to attend Kwun Tong Magistracy later this month.
My offense happened in the afternoon of 3 October 2015, exactly a month after I collected from ISS-HK $1200 in Wellcome coupons for September and two days before my October appointment. That morning I neither had breakfast, nor lunch. Actually the week before the incident I only ate dinner, as food and coupons were running low.
My fridge was empty. I might as well have removed the power plug, as inside there was only bottles of tap water. My roommate and I had some oil and salt in the kitchen – nothing else. Even our knife was broken and the frying pan had seen better days. In September I paid 6 food coupons (each one worth $100) to my landlord to settle the outstanding electricity bill he pressured us to pay.
Waking up hungry on the morning of 3 October, I opened the empty fridge and asked my roommate, “Do you have any coupons left? I only have one.” He replied he had none and had recently borrowed two from a refugee. At that moment a friend called and asked to meet me in Jordan. I told him I could not, I was hungry, had nothing to eat and needed food for the weekend for myself and my roommate.
I visited a refugee nearby who lent me two coupons I promised to replace on Monday, after I collected mine for October. Then I walked to a nearby Wellcome store, where I put in the shopping basket the cheapest options for: onions, potatoes, tomatoes, fruit juice, eggs, condensed milk, teabags, sugar, bread and some other vegetables. The total bill was about $300.
When I placed some items in my backpack, I knew it was wrong. I was compelled to steal. I have never done it before in my life. It was foolish and I deeply regret it. In another lifetime … if my country were not ravaged by war … I would never steal to eat. I am a man of God who loves peace and believes in honesty. I know that stealing is wrong.
It is very hard to survive on $40 a day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Everything is too expensive in Hong Kong. The small tub of yogurt was $85 and a necessity in our cuisine. We also needed the $32 of black pepper to cook. The air-freshener was $79. I intended to neutralize the stench in our small and damp room. I will never forget those prices I could not afford as I am not allowed to work.
As a refugee I feel that life is often beyond my control. I have to make tough choices to ration $40 for food each day. But I also used the food coupons to settle the electricity in our room. Further, my ISS-HK caseworker refused to refund $245 for cooking gas because the invoice showed my name. She requested that the gas company reissue it. However, seven times before I submitted similar receipts with my name and they were accepted. She said she would only refund $100 and I had to wait a month. That was my food money I used to pay for the gas. I felt I was cheated.
The truth is that I have never been this depressed and humiliated. My life is as damaged as my fridge is empty. My living conditions are grim and the situation is deteriorating since I sought asylum.
I am hanging by a thread that I fear will snap any moment and cast me into chaos. Hong Kong has put a timer on my life … blurring my existence … waiting for me to die slowly, slowly. I fend off thoughts of taking my life.
Hello, I am Outsider reporting again on the experiences of refugees in Hong Kong.
Recently there have been many news reports about criminals who lodge Unified Screening Mechanism (USM) claims with the Immigration Department, but might not have legitimate grounds for protection. This is an issue which deserves to be discussed. It raises the question: Who allows wolves in sheep’s clothing to hide among refugees?
Immigration officials recently informed journalists that several hundred USM claimants broke the law: since the beginning of the year 113 claimants were arrested for working illegally and 515 were involved in other crimes, amounting to about 6% of 10,000 outstanding claimants.
Conveniently no explanation was provide about the different backgrounds of the so-called criminals with asylum claims who were arrested. At a risk of oversimplification, I believe there are three major groups: 1) destitute USM claimants who perform legal work without permission; 2) impoverished migrants and troubled traders who cannot renew/obtain visas; c) gangsters abusing asylum to avoid removal and engage in criminal activity.
For the first group, government press releases and news reports are biased and unbalanced as they failed to make relevant distinctions. It is suggested that many USM claimants are criminals and troublemakers, yet the unfair reporting lacks context. For instance, we refugees rent subdivided rooms costing $2500-3500 (the cheapest are windowless 2x4m cubicle with shared facilities), but receive just $1500 in rent assistance since February 2014.
For subsistence reasons, including keeping a roof over our heads, many refugees are obliged to work. Any refugee stuck in Hong Kong more than six months, has probably worked here and there. Of course few dare to admit it. We simply have no choice. The government is mocking readers by calling us ‘criminals’, which brings to mind dishonest individuals breaking the law for easy money.
The reality is refugees do hard work in construction and recycling for 10-12 hours a day in very dangerous conditions for a rip-off $200-300 without insurance or medical cover. That is neither desired nor easy money. We must work to pay for ours and our family’s daily needs, in particular for our children. Don’t let the government fool you, it is the failed asylum policy that forces refugees to work without permission.
For the second group, there are several nationalities who enter Hong Kong with visitor or work visas which eventually expire. Previously they would leave and return with another visa which was problematic, expensive and time consuming. After discovering that USM allows them to remain for years with some assistance, they stop leaving and returning. They are not to blame. They probably suffer unbearable poverty without social services in their country and, after discovering a benefit, naturally seize the opportunity.
For the third group, there are hardened gangsters who resist deportation by lodging USM claims to avoid removal/detention and persist in their criminal ways. A few characters frankly explained to me that this was the only exploit to remain in Hong Kong. These abusers are thumbing their noses at a system that allows them to stay unchallenged for years. Their pockets lined with the real easy money, they entice dispossessed refugees to join their gangs.
Entering Hong Kong just to be an asylum seeker is not attractive. In fact, asylum seekers face years of intolerable hardship. Instead abusers and criminals are attracted by a failed asylum system that remains open to and indeed welcomes exploitation. These individuals find an open and unguarded environment in which they can achieve goals not related to asylum.
It appears that the government is deceptively singling out a minority 6% of arrested refugees to criminalize and degrade the law-abiding majority. A careful review of recent news reports suggest that the Government is blaming everyone – refugees, smugglers, lawyers and interpreters – without considering its responsibility towards a policy that fails refugees. The USM appears not to benefit society (tax-burden and security risk), while it allows the government to maintain an established policy of not granting asylum.
Dear readers, if the USM processed asylum claims credibly and fairly within 6 months rather than the claimed average of 2-3 years (more like 5-10), would it be approved by refugees? Would it benefit society? Would it limit the cost and social risk? Would it continue to harbour wolves in sheep’s clothing?