Following successful participation in a rally on World Refugee Day, from Fanling to Tuen Mun there is remarkable demand to join the Refugee Union. The Refugee Union appears to have planted a seed that might just develop into the best hope for its members to engage the government and become stakeholders in their future. A protester observed, “We are at the bottom of the pile and cannot fall any lower. Hong Kong has to respect our rights and understand that we are also human beings.”
The office of the Chief Executive of HKSAR acknowledged receipt of the Refugee Union petition requesting urgent changes to an unbearable welfare system that provides insufficient assistance while also denying the right to work. Such polices create a toxic environment in which 6000 individuals are suffering under the indifferent eyes of the local population and most civil society organizations.
Although immediate changes are not expected, the Refugee Union sent a clear and loud message to authorities that the present asylum system is unfair and unfit to provide either safety to those in need of protection, or humanitarian assistance to those who are hungry, homeless and destitute.
Further, the union unexpectedly motivated refugees to take pride in their status. As a protesting mother explained having never previously told her children that they are refugees, fearing local children would bully them, for refugees are widely viewed as lacking cultural capital and being socially different. By contrast, on World Refugee Day, she stood proud in the first rows holding hands with her children now cognizant of their status.
On World Refugee Day, for the first time refugees spoke for themselves. It was not a lawmaker or NGO leader who wrote and presented the petition to Hong Kong Government, but the Refugee Union itself. Many observers wrongly assume that refugees are incapable of persuasively articulating reasonable demands. Instead, the significance of this event will not be lost on those who witnessed self-empowered, self-motivated and self-reliant individuals stand up proudly and speak up against abuse.
It is hardly deniable that a wave of empowerment is sweeping the refugee community such as was hard to predict before the electrifying demonstration to Government Headquarters. There is growing discontent against the dysfunctional asylum process and at some point the authorities will have to come to grips with a reality that can no longer be conveniently swept under the carpet of indifference.
Many refugees have started to think strategically about the Refugee Union’s accomplishments, mission and future. A ten-year veteran refugee, who never before participated in rights movements sent a Whatsapp message vividly expressing this new spirit of self-reliance:
“I have some strategic planning for the Union that I would like to discuss. It is divided into the following very important three areas that are required according to my research. Where are we know? The Union needs to review its strategic position and clarify its mission, vision and values. Where are we going? The union needs to establish its competitive advantage and its objectives. How will we get there? The Union needs to lay out the road to connect to where it is going. The Union needs to set is strategic objectives, goals, action items and how it will execute its plans.”