The “Open Prison”, Hong Kong

Post Date: Nov 13th, 2013 | Categories: Personal Experiences | COMMENT

Sarah Cheng, blogs an interview with VF member Ali on 7 November 2013

Egypt, India, Nepal, Belarus, German, Poland, Ukraine, Russia. Ali Gare, 24, is now in Hong Kong, his ninth destination, one step closer to his dream of directing. Yet in the past 7 weeks, he seldom travels around the city, mostly locking himself in his room.Ali’s father is one of the Chadian rebel leaders against the ruling party, MPS. What greets Ali, who joins the 103 refugees, 1,122 asylum-seekers in Hong Kong, is in a great contrast to what he saw online. To his desperate, he’s not allowed to work here. Ali helps himself to watch TV when tired of wandering.

No work permit is granted to refugees and asylum seekers in Hong Kong. Applications take years to be verified, some stretching into a decade. Some refugees become parents, whose claims still pending when their Hong Kong-born kids are permitted to go to school if their case worker nods. “Hong Kong government accepted 10 people (as recognized refugees) in the last 21 years,” says Cosmo Beatson, the Director of Vision First, a Hong Kong-based NGO working on refugee issues. It’s not just the foreign culture and lack of sufficient aids that overwhelm the refugees. Most troubling is the inordinate and endless wait which causes serious chronic depression, according to Beatson.

Refugees feel they are trapped in an “open prison”, where although free to move around the city, there is no future, says Beatson. Refugees and asylum seekers do not enjoy free therapy when mental problem knocks at the door. They are also too poor to buy one because, with subsidies of 1200 HKD per month, paid directly to the landlords, and aids like food and clothes from NGOs and s, they could barely make ends meet.

Ali and his family fled Chad in 2006 as his father built an army against the government to overthrow the dictatorship of “the King”, Idriss Déby, the Chadian president, Ali says. With an ambition to become a genuine film director, he made up his mind in Moscow and flew to Hong Kong, a city with prosperity and safety. Ali’s regrets mounted, his ambition unchanged. A dream is a dream. If he abandons his dream due to the hardship in Hong Kong, he would not have called it a “dream”, says Ali.

Two pieces of good news embrace Ali last week. One is his father tells him on Skype that his army is going to enter the capital city within 3 weeks. The other is Ali could pick up his passport at Immigration Department as long as he is ready to fly abroad. His next destination is the United States, where government-sheltered refugees are free to work. Friends have been waiting for him since Ali turned down their offer before he took his dream seriously. He’s going to shoot his short movie, “We need to change”, as soon as he finds his employment in Washington or Las Vegas.

Ali and his friends in Moscow (Photo: Ali’s Facebook)