Eighteen century statesman Edmund Burke famously wrote: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of Evil is for good men to do nothing!” Today, these words inspire us to do our part in the world despite the enormous challenges emerging from the coast of Africa to the coast of Fukushima. Unable to explain the suffering that plagues mankind, we find solace in the everlasting hope of Good Men who fight tyranny and persecution with instruments of justice, truth, mercy, forgiveness and love. Every day, in every corner of the world these brave Good Men rise against injustice – willing to pay the ultimate price – with the resolute determination they make a difference in stemming the tide of evil. Joining their voices with those of past heroes, they lament having just one life to sacrifice for all that is good in humanity.
This Easter week the upheaval in the Middle East demonstrates how little has changed since the events of the First Easter that also occurred amidst occupation, violence and a desperate search for refuge. Progress and development have improved the livelihood of 5% of the word’s population, but conditions in Damascus, Misrata and Tripoli are little changed since Roman legionnaires subdued citizens with a merciless imperial fist. For two millennia strife never ceased and produced generations of exiles and refugees. Today we cannot ignore the moral imperative that comes with belonging to a free and wealthy country. When our freedom encounters the affliction of a fellow man, our freedom becomes a moral duty to act with compassion and generosity, because nobody knows whose turn is next. Case in point are the distraught Japanese ‘nuclear refugees’ whose escape wouldn’t merit UNHCR protection, as ecological disasters aren’t covered by its narrow mandate that exclude many of our members, too.
Nobody looks back far in family history without finding evidence of ancestors fleeing their homeland as ‘economic migrants’ or forced to escape like desperate refugees. Whether of Chinese, South-Asian, Anglo-Irish or Australian descent, every family suffered this fate before, maybe when borders where less ferociously guarded and governments more principled. Fiercely determined to counter ‘the magnet effect’, in 2010 the HKSAR successfully tightened controls and dissuaded departures from trouble spots: only 450 UNHCR applications were lodged out of 358,800 in developed countries (http://www.unhcr.org/4d8c5b109.html). The global figure is 40% lower than in 2000 despite there being an equivalent number of refugees worldwide, which is proof the burden shifted to undeveloped countries. Thus, Hong Kong joins the ranks of the Wealthiest doing the least, while poorer countries, without resources to seal borders, are overwhelmed by millions. Being prosperous should count for more than excluding the vulnerable and promoting Investment Migration Schemes to those able to invest 10 million dollars, who inflate property and shares prices, yet add little to real economic growth.
Recently, Vision First experienced the dilemma of new arrivals candidly admitting they are not ‘convention refugees’, but instead fled countries where they ate only every three days. These hungry strangers lined up with an AIDS victim, a homosexual who was almost burnt alive in his village and others chased from their ancestral homes by despair too deep to fathom. Empathizing with their distress, we dutifully explain our NGO mission and wonder: “How do we turn into the street a fellow human being pleading for help?” It is consideration of a shared dignity, not of policy, that determines how we act in these circumstances. To stem impending suffering, sympathetic charity is more valuable than stringent policy – however legitimate that policy may be – because the only eyes evaluating us are the very ones pleading for compassion. Undoubtedly, these reflections will be tested by the opening of our Emergency Shelter in July, when those desperate for lodging will vie for limited availability. Never mind, we shall cross that bridge when we reach it. These encounters remind us that our freedom doesn’t reach so far as to judge claimants’ backgrounds after HKSAR Immigration has accepted their application. When charity prevails, the good of one’s fellow man determines the bounds of one’s freedom. Therefore, Vision First welcomes needy foreigners who seek sanctuary in our city in the name of a virtue that makes mankind great – the virtue of hospitality to strangers and refugees.