The Refugee Union for protection claimants is the first of its kind in Hong Kong. Conceptualized at a gathering on 27 January 2014, the Union introduced its increasingly familiar logo on 22 February and is today rapidly gaining acceptance in a once marginalized and fractured community.
In less than five months over 300 members joined the Refugee Union with a record 33 signing up on 12 June 2014 in Ping Che – the epicenter of the battle against the slums that challenged ISS-HK’s housing policy. Incidentally, the worst shacks were either demolished or are no longer approved for refugees.
The advantages of the Union over any traditional NGO are readily grasped by refugees and worth consideration as the community prepares for a rally on World Refugee Day, 20 June 2014.
First, the Refugee Union is as an organization that genuinely places the rights and interests of the community ahead of government policies and other agendas that limit the scope of action of typical NGOs, which often aim to offer charity without addressing the root causes of social injustice.
Second, the Refugee Union puts the needs of refugees before other considerations, which for other NGOs often amount to paying rent and salaries every month. The Union offers an organizational model that puts members’ requirements head of overheads and payroll, because there are none.
Third, the Refugee Union is independent from the government and represents its community without fear or favour and without worrying about losing funding or stepping on the wrong feet. This autonomy guarantees that objectives are prioritized and strategies formulated to benefit the group.
Fourth, the Refugee Union brings together groups traditionally divided along national, ethnic and cultural lines to the detriment of collective power. Members understand that this society belongs to them and that united under one flag they can achieve as a group what is impossible alone.
Fifth, the Refugee Union promotes member participation for the simple reason that any refugee can speak for himself, share information, put forward suggestions, inform other and take the lead wherever necessary. The Union already enjoys a leadership resolved to bring forward change.
As a consequence, the Refugee Union empowers a community of motivated people who individually had no chance of tackling the culture of rejection that silently abuses this population.
Evidence demonstrates that the Refugee Union is a paradigm shift in the asylum arena. The founding members went on a mission to bring hope to thousands of comrades crushed by the institutionalized violation of human rights. Today the word is spreading across Kowloon and the New Territories and refugees are pressing to sign up for membership in an organization that truly belongs to them.
The Union is community-driven and its leaders are selected entirely by vigorous performance and selfless dedication to the common good. This ensures that new bonds of friendship and trust are forged to consolidate a brotherhood that will bring the best out of talented and passionate members.
The experience is as inspiring as it is transformative. A community crushed hopelessly without a future, has proactively united and organized to build the foundation and gather the strength required for the struggle ahead. The union is rising and new members join its ranks daily.
“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable … Every step towards the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.