World Refugee Day in Hong Kong used to be dominated by activities arranged to fundraise for refugees in far and dispersed regions of the world. Vision First lamented this hypocritical arrangement, when local refugees were inadequately met with their protection needs.
In the wake of legal and social change occurred and exposed in recent months, Vision First is of the opinion that donors should reconsider their approach to charity. ‘Think Global, Act Local’ is perhaps a priority, whereby humanitarian crises rage worldwide, but careful consideration should be given to who best can serve charity purposes to solve the many problems refugees face in this city.
Closer to home, donors are encouraged to find out how their money is spent and why.
Vision First takes the view that most NGO activities are theoretically redundant and harmful. It is unquestionable that it is the Hong Kong Government’s duty to meet refugee needs. Anything that falls short of this commitment should not be met by NGOs as a sort of filling the gaps.
In this light, NGO donors should consider whether their donations are unwittingly perpetuating an undesirable environment in which the government avoids its duties and non-profits assist only a fraction of a vulnerable, marginalized group.
Further, as these donations are hardly significant to meet the needs of the whole refugee community, consideration should be given to the impact that donations have on competition for resources among refugees. In this respect, donations are often just a drop in the bucket.
In short, while NGO work can reach only a small minority of refugees, certain refugees are silently privileged, while most are ignored, based on assumptions that in fact reiterate government propaganda about genuine and abusive refugees.
Let’s introduce an example. For years NGOs fundraised to pay kindergarten fees and other school costs. Donors enjoyed a feel good factor knowing they assisted disenfranchised children with vital education.
However, they might not have considered that for every child blessed with their donation there were possibly ten more whose parents risked 15 months jail for unlawfully working to pay school fees. Law enforcement arrest daily refugees who simply try to make ends meet in a caustic environment.
Pressure should be put on the government to meet in full its obligations towards people seeking protection in Hong Kong. Since kindergarten fees were advocated for, change became possible, and the government recently began to meet what always was its legal obligation towards the rights of a child.
Vision First believes NGO donors should think outside the orthodoxy box and spare a thought for the men, women and children their donations do not reach, whether their charity is self-interested and, in case they are genuinely concerned with the livelihoods of refugees, how their donations can be more effective.