Sarah Cheng, blogs the story of refugee Ali on 30 October 2013
Ali Gare, 24, was in trouble. “Why you hang out with so many different girls?” his “girlfriend”, whose only friend was Ali on Facebook, commented under a photo of Ali and his hiking partners. “No, they’re only good friends of mine,” Ali replied urgently. This “girlfriend” is actually Ali’s father, however, one of the leaders of the Chadian rebels against Patriotic Salvation Movement, which now is reigning over Chad. Separated for 6 years, they talk occasionally on Facebook, sometimes on Skype.
Landed in Hong Kong a month and two weeks ago, Ali has no idea what he will be confronted with, joining the 103 refugees and 1,122 asylum-seekers here (UNHCR figures).Ali is getting used to relocation and he loves traveling as long as he is not accessible to the Chadian Embassy. Yet the experience in the last 40 days in Hong Kong has shrunk the robust man. His jaw recedes, his energy fades.
The refugees and asylum seekers are recognized as inhabitants by the government yet insufficiently supported. They’re not allowed to work, relying merely on the subsidies distributed by the International Social Service and NGOs in Hong Kong. For them, there is no way to join society and no way to return home. “I wake up in the afternoon at 3 p.m., go downstairs to pay the rent, have a cup of coffee in the street, and go for another coffee, and another, and another… until I go to bed at 4 a.m.,” Ali says, almost in a whisper.
He dodges into a hotel on Nathan Road, Kowloon when he arrives at Hong Kong. He pays 400 HKD daily on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, and 300 HKD per day in the rest of the week. Ali has no friends in Hong Kong. He choked down chicken burger when he’s hungry. He loves shooting pictures and videos, but his Canon 5D Mark II is buried deep in his backpack ever since he arrives.
Ali’s plead has been accepted by the Immigration Department of Hong Kong. He hands in his passport to the officer, filing a few pieces of papers, and then registers in UNHCR and somewhere else which he cannot name. The Immigration Department asks him to wait for a month. One month later he received nothing. The days of no hope has driven Ali crazy. An Egyptian friend recommends Vision First, a Hong Kong-based NGO which provides free shelter for refugees. Ali came to the office in Sai Ying Pun 3 hours earlier on Monday, 28th Oct, waiting patiently for his enrollment.
“My father disputed with the King over the oil issues, and he required more money to resolve poverty and build schools. The King told my father either he accepted the bribe of millions of dollar, putting his head down or he would be kicked out of the country,” Ali says. “The King” is Idriss Déby, who was reelected as the President of Chad in 2006. Ali and his family fled their home in Boqza, a city in Southern Chad, in May, 2006 as his father built an army against the government for he refused to kneel down.
After finished his Bachelor Degree of Film Directing in 2010 in Cairo University, Ali worked as a TV director in Egypt and left for India. He stayed in India for 5 months, and Pokhara, a Nepalese town, for another 5 months. He tried to visit his European friends in German, Belarus, Poland, Ukrained. When he was tiring of travelling, he boarded a plane for Hong Kong for something serious.
This time is different. If Ali is lucky enough to acquire a refugee status in Hong Kong, he will not have to move from one country to another anymore. Hong Kong is one of the few countries and cities in Asia where Chad doesn’t establish its embassy. “When I saw the pictures of Hong Kong online, I thought it was a good place to stay, so I came here,” Ali says. “I miss rajima,” Ali says. Served with rice, bean and curry, rajima is one of his favourite foods in Pokhara, a small town near Katmandu, where Ali enjoys his day with his friends. Each dish of rajima costs Ali only 1 USD. Ali holds a film-directing class in Pokhara. He charges his European students 600 USD per lesson, Nepalese student 350 USD per lesson. When he doesn’t teach, he goes hiking and fishing with his friends on the Mount Budha rested behind his guesthouse.
“Pokhara is in a great contrast to Hong Kong. It is a small town where people talk to each other on the street,” he says. “If you forget to bring the money, you can pay back next time. Usually the money will be paid in 2 or 3 days.” “Hong Kong people hold themselves in, yet I know they are very nice when I talk to them,” Ali says. “I would like to come back to Hong Kong as a tourist in the future.” He plans to shoot a movie about his experience in Hong Kong when he comes back.
Ali stores an awful lot of pictures and videos of his friends and him smiling from ear to ear, howling with laughter in his Samsung tablet. Ali argues Celine Dion is the best singer in the world, while his friends don’t. The moment he receives his passport, Ali will fly to Nepal where his friends and students awaits. But his wonderland is not necessarily abroad. Ali’s father tells him he is going to win the war and Ali can go back to Chad with his mother, who lives in Saudi Arabia with Ali’s younger sister and brother.
“He’s a good man, adored by his colleagues.” Ali says. “He could have turned a blind eye by accepting the bribe, but he stood for his belief.” Ali respected his father’s undertaking as his father did his dream to be a director. His father never forced Ali to join his army. “He asked me to kill a chicken for the dinner and laughed at me when I said no,” Ali says and giggles. “I was only 14 then.” As an asylum seeker, Ali is a lucky one. “The Immigration Department told me my passport is going to be ready in a week or two, hopefully,” he says and leaves briskly for his dinner at McDonald’s.
Ali (Source: Ali’s Facebook)