by Raquel Carvalho
The cultural differences between Togo and Hong Kong can be greater than the miles between both places. Ibrahim and his wife Ally were forced to leave their home country. Now living in Hong Kong, they struggle to survive with little hope in the future.
Ibrahim Adjouma, 43 years old, recalls the sea and the lakes of his hometown, Aného. He talks loudly and excitedly about the big and tasty fishes that he used to eat back in Togo. He hasn’t tasted anything to equal this since he arrived in Hong Kong, on 8th February 2005.
“When you protest, your life is in danger,” he says, explaining why he had to leave Togo, in West Africa. After demonstrations against the 2005 presidential elections, Ibrahim never saw his younger brother again.
However, he didn’t give up until his own life was also in danger. “I’m sure they killed him and they didn’t want any questions. A best friend of mine, who was a high official, called me saying that they had decided together to arrest me, torture or kill me. He said I had to leave the country soon.”
When Ibrahim got his friend’s call, he was in a mosque praying for the days to come. From that time on, he would need more courage than he could ever imagine. He travelled in his friends’ car, crossed a lake by boat, and hid himself in a village lost on the map until he got a passport and a flight ticket in his hands. He would land in Kong Kong, not by option but by fate.
A guesthouse in Chungking Mansions was his roof for a few weeks, but soon he ran out of money. The Star Ferry Pier became his new home for six months until he was arrested. “After four months in detention, because the Hong Kong Government didn’t recognize the asylum seek card certificate, I had to file a torture claim at the Immigration Department,” describes Ibrahim.
While he is still waiting, he holds a document that doesn’t allow him to work in Hong Kong. His wife, Ally, left Togo in 2008, after being threatened by the police, and she is now in the same situation.
According to an article published in the South China Morning Post on December 2012, there were last year 5,200 torture claim cases pending assessment at the Immigration Department.
Although the couple’s two children, Adam and Marian, were born in Hong Kong, they were not granted resident cards. “Their situation is not established. And if they go to school we have to pay fees,” says Ibrahim, worried about the next few years.
Without sources of income, the family relies on support from the International Social Service, which is commissioned by the Hong Kong government, and from charity organizations. “The government gives us 3.600 HK dollars for the rent. But how can we find a flat for this price in Hong Kong? We are now in a temporary shelter and we have to find a house, but we don’t have any money for the deposit.”
To have food on the table is also a daily struggle. “We get about 4.000 dollars per month for the family. But that’s what they write in the paper….We don’t get the cash, we have to go to a store and collect the food. The prices are not fair,” Ibrahim complains.
His greatest wish is to get a piece of the life he once had in Togo, where he was a businessman with a house and a backyard. “I don’t see any future for me. I am already 43. All I want is to change my children’s future.”