Frankly it was the most humiliating experience in my life. The alarm rang when I left a Wellcome store after buying some groceries. Two members of staff stopped me and asked to look inside my backpack. They busted me for not paying for black pepper, yogurt and an air-freshener – total valued $196.
They called the police and I was taken to the back office for a preliminary investigation, before being escorted to the police station where an interpreter was called to make a statement. I was detained overnight and released on bail the following evening with instruction to attend Kwun Tong Magistracy later this month.
My offense happened in the afternoon of 3 October 2015, exactly a month after I collected from ISS-HK $1200 in Wellcome coupons for September and two days before my October appointment. That morning I neither had breakfast, nor lunch. Actually the week before the incident I only ate dinner, as food and coupons were running low.
My fridge was empty. I might as well have removed the power plug, as inside there was only bottles of tap water. My roommate and I had some oil and salt in the kitchen – nothing else. Even our knife was broken and the frying pan had seen better days. In September I paid 6 food coupons (each one worth $100) to my landlord to settle the outstanding electricity bill he pressured us to pay.
Waking up hungry on the morning of 3 October, I opened the empty fridge and asked my roommate, “Do you have any coupons left? I only have one.” He replied he had none and had recently borrowed two from a refugee. At that moment a friend called and asked to meet me in Jordan. I told him I could not, I was hungry, had nothing to eat and needed food for the weekend for myself and my roommate.
I visited a refugee nearby who lent me two coupons I promised to replace on Monday, after I collected mine for October. Then I walked to a nearby Wellcome store, where I put in the shopping basket the cheapest options for: onions, potatoes, tomatoes, fruit juice, eggs, condensed milk, teabags, sugar, bread and some other vegetables. The total bill was about $300.
When I placed some items in my backpack, I knew it was wrong. I was compelled to steal. I have never done it before in my life. It was foolish and I deeply regret it. In another lifetime … if my country were not ravaged by war … I would never steal to eat. I am a man of God who loves peace and believes in honesty. I know that stealing is wrong.
It is very hard to survive on $40 a day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Everything is too expensive in Hong Kong. The small tub of yogurt was $85 and a necessity in our cuisine. We also needed the $32 of black pepper to cook. The air-freshener was $79. I intended to neutralize the stench in our small and damp room. I will never forget those prices I could not afford as I am not allowed to work.
As a refugee I feel that life is often beyond my control. I have to make tough choices to ration $40 for food each day. But I also used the food coupons to settle the electricity in our room. Further, my ISS-HK caseworker refused to refund $245 for cooking gas because the invoice showed my name. She requested that the gas company reissue it. However, seven times before I submitted similar receipts with my name and they were accepted. She said she would only refund $100 and I had to wait a month. That was my food money I used to pay for the gas. I felt I was cheated.
The truth is that I have never been this depressed and humiliated. My life is as damaged as my fridge is empty. My living conditions are grim and the situation is deteriorating since I sought asylum.
I am hanging by a thread that I fear will snap any moment and cast me into chaos. Hong Kong has put a timer on my life … blurring my existence … waiting for me to die slowly, slowly. I fend off thoughts of taking my life.