They were arriving one hour before the meeting started despite no email, blog or SMS reminders. The news had spread by word-of-mouth: here is a Union that seeks justice and protection, here is an association that fights for the rights, dignity and future where these are denied in contravention of the law. Refugees in Hong Kong thirsted for justice since they were first locked up in the grim Victoria Prison around 2000 – always unlawfully and often for more than a year!
There was a palpable feeling in the air that despair and anger are at last positively channeled. What people failed to achieve individually year after year, might be possible with collective power. Nothing comparable has ever been attempted in Hong Kong and it can only be achieved today after a gradual buildup in confidence and leadership in 2013. Vision First is proud to have prepared fertile ground.
Nationals from a dozen countries participated in the Refugee Union’s second meeting, including old-timers who hadn’t bothered with gatherings for many years, due to disillusionment with civil society. Participation was remarkably strong and it was standing-only space in the room. Galvanizing energy united these men and women who have been sidelined in the community as hopelessly irrelevant.
The first order of the day was the election of country leaders, an exercise in spontaneous democracy that was unexpectedly smooth among such a diverse, strong-minded individuals. The leaders will be supported by two assistance and the three will participate in Refugee Union meetings to report decisions and actions to their community. Gatherings larger than this won’t be possible in future.
It was unanimously agreed that the Union’s longterm goal is to campaign for the Right to Work. There is no dignity in a life deprived of employment rights, particularly when raising a family. Idleness could be enforced for 6 to 12 months, but any longer amounts to outright cruelty. The ‘magnet effect’, if even plausible, does not justify harming human beings who wasted 10 years or longer waiting for the Immigration Department to make a decision: Accept or Reject! What are they pondering over?
Rights barrister, and Vision First non-executive director, Mr. Robert Tibbo was the guest of honor. He entered to a warm applause as everyone was pleased to finally meet him in person. The Refugee Union needs legal grounding. Its formation, agenda and activism must be rooted in law. From the questions asked it was apparent that members want to learn their rights, not just in respect to USM, but also in their daily, and often confrontational, dealings with authorities.
There was a general request for a “Rights Workshop” to be conducted by human rights barristers to ensure that refugees know exactly where they stand in encounters with police, Immigration, case workers and those who serve the community. The Refugee Union will safeguard refugee rights by ensuring that its members are the best informed and know how to confidently handle any eventuality from police search to High Court review.
Many lamented how other NGOs discouraged assemblies and participation of refugees in protest activities. The enemies of justice are well versed in the ancient tactic of “Divide and Conquer”. The Refugee Union will strive to counter this and other defeatist attitudes by empowering each and every individual to rise fearlessly against prejudice and injustice, wherever they appear. The times are changing and nobody is doubts that 2014 will usher in a veritable refugee REFORMATION.