Changing hatred into reconciliation

Post Date: Jan 16th, 2012 | Categories: Advocacy | COMMENT

My name is Jonathan and I’ve been a refugee in Hong Kong since 2009. Truly, we don’t like being here because we miss our family and country. If we had a calm, peaceful homeland, we wouldn’t be here. The main reasons for persecution are two – political and religious. Personally, I escaped my country because I was a political activist from my university days. After graduation the policies of the government we had supported drifted badly. They wanted every power to benefit themselves, not the people they should be serving. We realized that we couldn’t support them anymore. At my first job with a telecom company (half government owned) my boss surprisingly knew everything about my past. He pressured me so relentlessly that he chased me out of the job. I was supervising a city branch, when an issue came up where I had to endorse the crediting of phone lines for the World Food Programs. However, a senior manager snuck onto the WFP billing telephone numbers for a construction company. This scam was brought to my branch trusting I would keep my mouth shut. I instructed the casher to add these numbers to WFP’s bill, as I knew what the consequences were if I refused.

However, WFP complained about it and an investigation started. A panel was called to explain what we knew about this situation. They zeroed into me and accused me of being incompetent. I knew they had always looked to firing me and this was an easy way to scapegoat me. At my second job I was working for a driving license project under the Ministry of Works and Transports. My boss, who used to be my junior, suddenly ended my contract and explained this was something that was beyond her control as it came from higher up. This came on the heel of threatening phone calls, like, “Watch your step! You will get hurt! It’s not worth your life!” I was warned this was my last chance to come to my senses as I was very active with an opposition party. One night my home was ransacked and everything destroyed. I lived with heightened fear that I would be kidnapped or shot in the streets. My family advised me to withdraw from politics, as I had nothing to benefit if I got killed. Even my uncle, a high ranking military officer, advised me to find an activity that kept me out of trouble with the government. Closer to the summer elections, the phone threats escalated, “If you don’t care about yourself, then make arrangements for your family’s funeral!” I knew life was cheap for these animals with guns.

Visiting a family happily housed by Vision First
Visiting a family we have happily housed

The time to flee came when I was trading pharmaceuticals outside the country. I was called and threatened, “We know where you are! We hope you are not running away, because we are watching your family!” The government tracked my activities, stopped the bus with my cargo and confiscated it. Plain clothes security agents went to my home asking for me. I returned through a secondary border crossing, got in touch with my girlfriend, changed my mobile phone and hid for two weeks in the village where I was born. The secret service searched my home three times that week. It’s common knowledge the victims they arrest never surface again. Their prisoners are made impotent through torture and are missing arms or legs. If you fall into their murderous hands, that’s it! I had no choice but sneak back to see my parents one last time. I borrowed money from my father and boarded a bus to a neighboring country. I fled to China, and then came to Hong Kong. Recently I spoke with my brother in the army, who told me to wait until after the election, as they will not tolerate any opposition to their power. We shall see how this works out, but I have little hope as every election is rigged by those who hold a bloody grip on power and will never agree to leave. In fact, the election was a disaster.

Dear Vision First, last year I said I was tired and didn’t want to stay. I really miss my country, my family and the opportunities I had. It makes things tougher to be segregated in a place where we cannot work and continue the life we had. We had responsibilities, family and duties that we should fulfill instead of sitting on our hands. This raises a question for HKSAR, “If we were productive for the community back home, then clearly we also have something to offer this city. Why aren’t we allowed to find our way, to work, to make a living in a decent way instead of begging?” If we could work we would proudly contribute our experience and skills here. Also, with our earnings we would boost the economy by paying for our life, instead of depending on charity. We would also buy things to send home to our families. When I consider the suffering endured and realize back home somebody is responsible for this, there is bitter resentment in my heart. This misery undermines the spirit of reconciliation back home, because we cannot move forward from past sorrows. Our lives are stuck where they were when we left and we cannot forgive. We stew in years of hatred and anger which greatly exacerbate our feelings. This only reinforces the cycle of violence, because when we return there is somebody to blame for all this pain. Those perpetrators must pay for what we underwent.

On the other hand, if refugees could integrate they would build new lives, start new activities and families. They would heal somewhat and detach themselves from the pain that drove them away. Today refugees forced abroad, look back at their countries with vengeance, not with affection. They dream of revenge and retaliation, because their sufferings are compounded in exile. I believe refugee integration is essential for world peace. I know Vision First serves members from 42 countries. Imagine the great benefit they would bring back upon their return! I wish their suffering were not prolonged by the harsh reality here. Hong Kong has a chance to make a difference worldwide by welcoming refugees and transforming their hardship into healing, changing their hatred into reconciliation, converting their vengeance into peace. Revenge is not a good feeling when it eats at your heart day and night. It is bad for us, bad for those around and bad for society. Vengeance breads violence, not forgiveness. What is important hope, you have to be hopeful no matter what situation you are in, no matter how small your chances are. You have to believe that something positive will come as God will not abandon us now. Thank you for this chance to share my views – Jonathan.