Rally successfully boosts Refugee Union’s future

Post Date: Jun 22nd, 2014 | Categories: Media | COMMENT

This year World Refugee Day was very different than previously. In the past, the day set aside internationally to celebrate refugees was invariably marked by stylish fundraising activities. The result was that refugee agency was inevitably underplayed, if not for their colourful diversity and extraneousness displayed to locals who perceived a hint of exotic in their otherwise mainstream existence.

While such diversity may indeed be worthy of exposition, the rationale supporting this strategy often collided with the best interests of refugees, who are often presented as victims needing our assistance to survive in our expensive and indifferent city.

Against this disheartening backdrop, the newly-formed Refugee Union resolved to take ownership of World Refugee Day and called for Asia’s World City to uphold refugee rights that are generally ignored and often grossly violated in the face of international treaties and domestic law.

For the first time, Hong Kong refugees organized themselves to draw attention to their plight and demand policy changes to address the abject poverty and social isolation they endure in the shadows. They claim that the current asylum system is as arbitrary as it is irrational. Nobody can be reasonably expected to subsist on fractional welfare for years without the right to work.

In developed countries asylum seekers are granted work rights if immigration authorities are unable to determine claims within a reasonable time. This is considered rational even in countries where levels of welfare do not immiserate refugees at 25% below the poverty line as they do in Hong Kong.

At some point Hong Kong Government must come to terms with the asylum paradox and, either meet refugees’ basic needs in full as required by law – no matter the cost – or grant temporary employment rights and reduce the burden on financial and welfare resources. The right choice seems logical enough.

Until that day, the refugee community will find growing solidarity in the Refugee Union that already authoritatively represents the rights and interests not only of its 350 members (100 asked to join at the rally), but of 6000 protection claimant who stoically await the overwhelmingly negative decisions on their claims.

Yesterday over 400 refugees gathered at Central Ferry Piers under the emblem of the Refugee Union. Four full busses departed distant villages in the New Territory to bring along those who demanded the right to speak out and to be heard. The protesters were a fair representation of the nationality that seek sanctuary here. For the first time, an Imam led Salaat-ul-Jumma, to sanctify the historical occasion.

In the spirit of unity, African drummers joined the rhythm of a Pakistani dhol to play with contagious enthusiasm for the entire demonstration that participants said was ‘an outstanding performance of vitality and energy’. As a deluge broke out, refugees danced together under cover to express unity in a bourgeoning quest for self-reliance.

Importantly, protesters chanted against exploitation and demanded work rights that most onlookers take totally for granted. Few spectators grasp the fact that to seek protection in this international financial centre is to become a reviled pariah.

“We want justice” called out men and women who experience the greatest unfairness Hong Kong dishes out on any social group. As many refugees cleverly argued, the economic predicament endured by refugees is so blatantly unconstitutional that it’s hard to believe authorities aren’t ashamed of this state of affairs. Turning a blind eye to injustice for too long leads to the very structural discrimination that plagues the asylum sphere. For refugees the future is now at stake.

The Refugee Union is resolved to change this shameful state of affairs for the simple reason that members have no way back and no viable way forward. Outspoken refugees are now telling their narrative in large number and expressing themselves with articulate clarity.

It is true that some refugees are happy with the status quo and hide in sheltered comfort zones. But even they surely realize the uncertainty of their status cannot offset the risk they may one day be arrested in the street or have their case unfairly rejected.

Increasing numbers of refugees understand the power they have been denied for far too long. United they have achieved what alone could never dreamed to obtain. And for this reason they are galvanized and sharing a gospel of emancipation and liberation – rusty chains are being torn apart.

On World Refugee Day 2014, a dream became a reality, and Hong Kong had a taste of what the future promises. The Refugee Union staged an event that was as empowering as it was inspiring. “We are coming out of the dark and soon everyone will see with their own eyes the result of current government policies” said a protesters as he marched proudly to Government Headquarters.

An interesting quest for self-reliance is underway.

Hundreds of members of the Refugee Union mobilized for World Refugee Day on 20 June 2014