Amir’s lifeless body lay three days in sweltering heat in the refugee slum he called home for several years. His unremarkable existence was diminished by destitution, indifference and isolation until a friend noticed that he hadn’t been seen around and wasn’t answering the phone. This Bangladeshi father of three would become better known to the refugee community in death than he was in life.
Refugees who die in Hong Kong do not fall victims of treacherous waters, or of violent outbreaks in camps, but are snuffed out by immiseration and depression that chokes them progressively day after day, year after year. While they are rare, and statistics are unavailable, the deaths and suicides reported suggest crimes of omission by those responsible for the health and safety of refugees.
By denying a ray of hope to individuals seeking international protection, Hong Kong Government has elevated passive rejection allegedly to a cruel policy. Instead of shooting rubber bullets across borders, towing boats out to sea, or segregating asylum seekers in camps (activities understood to be illegal), the authorities promote a policy that makes waiting indefinite and unbearable.
Hope keeps people alive and despair robs refugees of mental health first and of physical strength later. While Amir cannot speak for himself, his suffering was witnessed by those who shared his fate and experienced the cruelty of an asylum sphere that offers anything but protection. At the tragic news, his friends united in solidarity to recapture in death the humanity Amir didn’t enjoy in life.
The Refugee Union mobilized on an unprecedented scale to spread the news and fundraise to repatriate the body, as is customary in South Asian cultures. The task was formidable as funeral rites and airfreight to Dhaka required raising 50,000 HKD in a few days. Compassionate members canvassed tirelessly the Muslim community and the figure was doubled with heartfelt condolence for Amir’s family.
It isn’t hard to imagine the desperate solitude of Amir’s final moments. He probably contemplated his failure, interment in inhospitable foreign land, the tragedy befalling his helpless family, the cruelty of circumstances he couldn’t overcome, the injustice of a world wounded by moral blindness. Amir couldn’t have imagined the love and compassion his death would arise.
All life is sacred. Human life especially so, and the inevitability of death is a reminder of the common thread that unites transiently every human being. Together we must resist the globalized indifference towards undesirable social groups to celebrate the dignity and humanity we share.
Amir’s existence was snuffed out by a culture of rejection that mercilessly diminished the lives of 14,000 refugees who sought sanctuary in Hong Kong. It is reassuring that the indignity Amir suffered in life was vindicated by brothers and sisters who finally recaptured his humanity in death.