Following the death of a refugee in the Hong Kong slums, AFP went on assignment with the Refugee Union. The shameful treatment of vulnerable asylum seekers was captured by an expert lens for the world to witness. Over a day we visited five notorious slums and met refugees who on average waited already five years for a decision on their claims without receiving a reply. They wait patiently in total destitution as those responsible turn a blind eye to their plight.
The material used to partition slum rooms are advertising billboards that might have been discarded after some fancy show at luxury shopping mall. It is striking that amid the city’s unbridled affluence there are human beings suffering under government care without proper accommodation. These living conditions tarnish the reputation of Hong Kong as an international financial centre where every person ought to be treated with respect, irrespective of immigration status.
The refugees welcomed us inside their shacks where, they explained, every item was recovered from garbage pits including electric stoves and flat-panel TVs. They spoke about the dynamics of survival in a metropolis, where coping without work is harsher than most people imagine. Despite such odds, refugees preserve great dignity which was masterfully captured by the photographer.
From all accounts, it might be the twilight of refugee slums in Hong Kong and the Refugee Union was grateful for the coverage this reprehensible policy is getting. “Show the world how they treat us,” exclaimed Afzaal from Pakistan, “We are not animals to lock in a farm shed. One night a snake bit my leg inside my hut. I had no idea if it was poisoned. We are scared of electricity, flooding, fires and the police banging our doors in the middle of the night. We are refugees, not criminals.”