Still powerless to move forward

Post Date: Jun 27th, 2010 | Categories: Advocacy | COMMENT

One of my first memories, when I arrived in Hong Kong a few years ago, is about a 65 year old man from South-East Asian who, on his second day here, approached me seeking help on his next steps. It often happens that people arriving in Hong Kong do not know much about asylum or protection and even less about this city. He said: ‘I was managing a hotel back in my country. I was the Director. I used to welcome important people, many foreigners, even prime ministers and heads of state in official visit. And now… now I am here seeking asylum.’ Tears flowed down his face and suddenly he stopped talking. With pride, as if connecting to a past that wasn’t his any longer, he gave me his business card. I took it and, with uneasy embarrassment, I exchanged it for mine. Fate is sometimes cruel: a person spends a lifetime building a career, having a family, sacrificing everything and then, quite suddenly, unexpected and unacceptable disaster strikes. The ensuing trauma is deep and unexplainable. This old man, a little bent forward, tearful eyes glistening on his weathered dark skin, gave me a deep sense of tenderness. A few months later he decided to gamble with his life by moving back to his country. Refugee life here was simply too harsh for him to bear. He was one of the first refugees I met in Hong Kong.

Having spent several years away, my return to Hong Kong wasn’t welcomed by many improvements. Sure, new skyscrapers were built, subway lines increased in number and convenience, but refugees are still here, still unable to accept their past and still powerless to move forward. I recall that old man and wonder whether he is still alive, whether his courageous return home enabled him to reclaim that fundamental role of every father: to love and support wife and children. It just makes you wonder. Refugees escape for the most diverse reasons, but when that occurs, what happens to their families? They simply shatter! Some people succeed to arrive with their closest family members, but most others do not. Increasingly restrictive immigration control measures, enforced by countries in the globalized Northern hemisphere, have resulted in extremely harsh and expensive journeys for refugees in search of safety. Their movement is characterized by countless obstacles, risks, uncertainty and even death. Fathers leave their loved ones behind thinking it isn’t safe to travel together, however they always hope to reunite their family when their application for asylum is processed and are granted the right to family reunion. In Hong Kong, this is simply an illusion.

Once they enter the asylum system, very few people can do anything about their future and in fact, they lose the right to travel. Their life becomes the continuous duplication of the same tedious day, repeated over and over again for years – hopelessly. Waiting is the only activity for thousands of men, women and children who will probably never be able to see their families again. They are now inertly waiting for someone to decide their refugee status, for someone to provide for their daily needs, for someone to fix their broken lives, which this very asylum system conspired to tear apart.

[An anonymous friend]

Urban Refugees , Invisible in the City.