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.”
9 July 2010 – British photojournalist Alixandra Fazzina has been named the winner of the Nansen Refugee Award given annually since 1954 by Geneva-based UNHRC (UN High Commissioner for Refugees) to an individual “for outstanding work on behalf of refugees.”
Fazzina began her photojournalism career following the British Army in Bosnia for two years, after which she began to record the lives of refugees.
She spent two years in Somalia chronicling the exodus of migrants and refugees from Somalia to the Arabian Peninsula and the smuggling business in the Gulf of Aden. The book which came out of this work will be published in September 2010, A Million Shillings, Escape from Somalia.
UNHCR, on announcing the award, noted that: Over the last ten years Alixandra Fazzina has tirelessly documented the plight of the uprooted through distinctive and moving photo reportages. Alixandra Fazzina’s work has taken her to Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia to cover
Saturday 26 June, 2010 – Vision First has marked the 2010 United Nations International Day for the Support of Victims of Torture with a panel discussion on the Protection of the Rights of Torture Victims in Asia and Hong Kong.
In partnership with Asian Human Rights Commission, hosted by the University of Hong Kong and streamed live on the internet by the Professional Commons via Community TV, the five panelists delivered their perspectives on human rights violations of citizens, asylum seekers and refugees in Asia.
Panelists were Mr Mark Daly – Human Rights Lawyer at Barnes and Daly Solicitors, Mr Brian Barbour – Chief Executive of Hong Kong Refugee Advice Centre (HKRAC), Mr Richard Tsoi – Community Organiser, Society for Community Organisation (SoCO), Mr Bijo Francis – Program Officer (India), Asian Human Rights Commission and Mr Baseer Naweed – Program Officer (Pakistan), Asian Human Rights Commission.
The panel outlined Hong Kong’s mechanisms for handling torture and asylum
claims, detention facilities and the treatment of refugees by the authorities, and Hong Kong’s political position and responsibilities having not signed the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention.
The panel also outlined the situation in India and Pakistan where harsh and unlawful police and military forces routinely torture citizens to extract information and enact revenge against opponents.
Video interviews and documentaries of torture survivors illustrated the severity of the inhumane treatment of vulnerable citizens across Asia. Cases from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Pakistan highlighted the crucial need to reform political systems to protect the human rights of all.
Q&A sessions engaged the panel in discussions from various perspectives including asylum seekers, international lawyers, law students and Hong Kong NGOs. A tragic personal story of torture reminded all those present with the reality of the situation, reminding us all of the gravity of human suffering. As hard as it is to speak about, and as hard as it is to hear, the sharing of personal experiences from Mr Naweed, as well as from those interviewed on film, stirs in listeners the motivation and sense of urgency to do whatever we can to help stop the use of torture.
Vision First is currently planning similar forums to promote the welfare and protection of rights for asylum seekers, refugees and torture claimants in Hong Kong.
One of my first memories, when I arrived in Hong Kong a few years ago, is about a 65 year old man from South-East Asian who, on his second day here, approached me seeking help on his next steps. It often happens that people arriving in Hong Kong do not know much about asylum or protection and even less about this city. He said: ‘I was managing a hotel back in my country. I was the Director. I used to welcome important people, many foreigners, even prime ministers and heads of state in official visit. And now… now I am here seeking asylum.’ Tears flowed down his face and suddenly he stopped talking. With pride, as if connecting to a past that wasn’t his any longer, he gave me his business card. I took it and, with uneasy embarrassment, I exchanged it for mine. Fate is sometimes cruel: a person spends a lifetime building a career, having a family, sacrificing everything and then, quite suddenly, unexpected and unacceptable disaster strikes. The ensuing trauma is deep and unexplainable. This old man, a little bent forward, tearful eyes glistening on his weathered dark skin, gave me a deep sense of tenderness. A few months later he decided to gamble with his life by moving back to his country. Refugee life here was simply too harsh for him to bear. He was one of the first refugees I met in Hong Kong.
Having spent several years away, my return to Hong Kong wasn’t welcomed by many improvements. Sure, new skyscrapers were built, subway lines increased in number and convenience, but refugees are still here, still unable to accept their past and still powerless to move forward. I recall that old man and wonder whether he is still alive, whether his courageous return home enabled him to reclaim that fundamental role of every father: to love and support wife and children. It just makes you wonder. Refugees escape for the most diverse reasons, but when that occurs, what happens to their families? They simply shatter! Some people succeed to arrive with their closest family members, but most others do not. Increasingly restrictive immigration control measures, enforced by countries in the globalized Northern hemisphere, have resulted in extremely harsh and expensive journeys for refugees in search of safety. Their movement is characterized by countless obstacles, risks, uncertainty and even death. Fathers leave their loved ones behind thinking it isn’t safe to travel together, however they always hope to reunite their family when their application for asylum is processed and are granted the right to family reunion. In Hong Kong, this is simply an illusion.
Once they enter the asylum system, very few people can do anything about their future and in fact, they lose the right to travel. Their life becomes the continuous duplication of the same tedious day, repeated over and over again for years – hopelessly. Waiting is the only activity for thousands of men, women and children who will probably never be able to see their families again. They are now inertly waiting for someone to decide their refugee status, for someone to provide for their daily needs, for someone to fix their broken lives, which this very asylum system conspired to tear apart.
[An anonymous friend]