My name is Seed and I come from West Africa. I was a livestock trader before political and tribal violence drove me off ancestral land in 2001, and eventually to a city I knew little about and never imagined I would come to. In 2004 I applied for political asylum with the UNHCR. I faced a long wait for a response to my claim and have been barred from working since I arrived. It was a long time before I heard from the UNHCR. Finally, I was called in and they just handed me a letter stating my application for refugee status had been rejected without a reason. They informed me I had two weeks to appeal the decision. So I did. It took them many months to reply, then they notified me my file had been permanently closed. I asked them why? And I answered to myself it would be easier were I born in East Africa or Somalia, but since I’m West African it’s hopeless to be accepted as a refugee in Hong Kong. There is no transparency at the UNHCR in Hong Kong and that was the worst year I ever experienced in my life!
The UN office processes asylum applications here without coordination with the government to address the time lag between a typical claim and the length of a valid visa, meaning many are forced to overstay their visa and end up in jail. I went to Immigration to organize my situation regarding my UNHCR application. But they didn’t give me a chance, so I had to become an over-stayer. I slept outside, at the Star Ferry pier for three long years, dodging police raids and sheltering in cardboard boxes. Life in Hong Kong is very difficult because I am alone, I don’t know anybody. I can’t work. I don’t have any civil rights or freedom. I’m like a prisoners, just that my prison is outside in the streets. I continued like this until 2007 when a social worker told me that, following demonstrations against the jailing without cause of asylum-seekers, the government had stopped this harsh practice. They confirmed that anyone with proper asylum seeking documents would only be kept in detention for a short period of time. Therefor I surrendered with my passport and files. For two weeks I was detained, but because I entered Hong Kong legally, they could not hold me too long. When I was released the immigration officers told me to see a social welfare officer. I went to ISS (International Social Services) and filled out the forms for some rent assistance – the same 1000 HKD a month since 2005!
Still now every month I must go to sign at Immigration and I don’t imagine I will ever get CAT refugee status, because of the problems with the UNHCR. If only there were a chance the government offered me a future – by guaranteeing me legal status to start my life – that is all I desire. I came here to seek protection from the tragedies I escaped and I’m not dreaming to be resettled in the States or Canada. After six years struggling, haven’t I earned the right to rebuild my life? Why rob me of the rest?
(Photo courtesy of SoCo)