One of the things that we existential psychologists take seriously is the existence of evil in the world. It is so painful for me when I become aware of how much evil and pain is perpetrated in the world for various reasons. The pain is such that I prefer not to think about most of the time. When I do take time to think about it, I am baffled, angry and exasperated with how much trauma and suffering is inflicted by a few upon so many, while it takes legions of heroic individuals to help just a few of these victims. It makes little sense to me. The philosophic and theological answers regarding free will provide me with limited comfort. What make some sense to me are the words of Viktor Frankl who taught us in his book Man’s Search for Meaning:
As each situation in life represents a challenge to man and presents a problem for him to solve, the question of the meaning of life may actually be reversed. Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. It does not really matter what we expect from life, but rather what life expects from us. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life, he can only respond by being responsible.
As each situation in life represents a challenge to man and presents a problem for him to solve, the question of the meaning of life may actually be reversed. Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. It does not really matter what we expect from life, but rather what life expects from us. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life, he can only respond by being responsible. A big part of what promotes my denial and avoidance is the sense of helplessness that I feel whenever I ponder the scope of the suffering that takes place. I hate this feeling of helplessness. Yet, it is the same helplessness that lawyers at the Hong Kong Refugee Advice Center face on a regular basis. The unsung heroes and heroines at the HKRAC persist every day despite struggling with their own sense of helplessness. Often, they will take on refugee cases applying for asylum even though at the outset, they know that the case has virtually no chance of success. This also makes little sense economically. They invest significant amounts of time in these cases even though they know they will fail. Why? Why not? This is because they know that what they do is significant just because. They know that the meaning of what they do is not directly tied to the success of their applications. If they were solely dependent upon successful applications, then they’d all quit with despair. Even with successful applications, the journey is in many ways has just begun. In the words of one attorney, “you can’t control the outcome but you can give your client a good day.”
In addition to protecting the refugee’s legal rights and providing high quality legal advice, the staff members help to preserve their clients’ dignity. The briefs that they write are significant beyond the fact that they document the traumatic events that took place. Think of the vicarious trauma that the staff endures from hearing details of systemic torture and abuse that happen over and over again. The briefs are significant because they are a written record of the narrative of the suffering that has been endured. They are significant because otherwise, the suffering will be unheard, undocumented, and therefore invisible. They battle against the pain of insignificance. The applications may ultimately be unsuccessful, but their clients are nevertheless tremendously grateful that despite the evil that has been perpetrated upon them, there are others in the world who care enough to listen and bear witness to their suffering.
The attorneys not only document, but they create worth. Carl Rogers taught us that empathy dissolves alienation. Carl Jung said that schizophrenics cease to be schizophrenic when they meet other persons with whom they feel understood. Through the staffs’ patient listening and the attorneys’ attentive sifting through the stories of trauma, the briefs written are Books of Life. When successfully recognized, they provide a new chance at life. Regardless of the application result, the briefs helps to recreate meaningful existence for people whose lives have been ravaged by evil. And the amazing thing is, these highly qualified staff commit to this beautiful work for pitiful wages while living in Hong Kong, one of the most expensive cities in the world. This blog is my tribute to them and my efforts to bear witness and honor the beautiful work that they do. Despite the pitifully low wages, there are deeply meaningful rewards. The staff shared one such reward with me recently when they recalled the jubilation of one of their few successful applicants. The applicant came into the office and exclaimed, “Stand Up, Now We Hug!” I imagine this being said with a heavy African accent. After years of struggle, what else can we say but “Stand Up, Now We Hug!” – Mark Yang
By Alison Gerard, Charles Sturt University and Francesco Vecchio, Monash University
You wouldn’t know it by listening to Question Time, but Australia is not the only country experiencing asylum seekers arriving by boat. Italy and Malta find themselves on the frontline of policing external EU borders against unauthorised arrivals across the Mediterranean. Malta receives the highest number of applicants for asylum per head of population in the EU. In Asia, tiny Hong Kong has been taken as a preferred destination by thousands crossing the narrow strip of sea between the former British colony and mainland China. Unauthorised border-crossing is a global phenomenon. Its varying causes however, are rarely tackled in Australian and international debates on asylum. We note the recent Houston report is almost silent on the country conditions of asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat. Countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka were either at war until recently or their people suffer generalised, daily violence.
Interviewing refugees who arrived by boat in Malta and Hong Kong, we found that many asylum seekers are aware of the dangers their journey will present but choose to travel anyway. In the words of one Somali refugee, “We run away from our country because any day you could die in Somalia. But you do not know when you are going to die if you travel. There is more trouble in our countries.” But this reason alone does not explain why wealthier countries witness increased numbers of people risking death as the only pathway to migration and a chance of a better life. The increase in asylum seekers arriving on Malta and Hong Kong’s shores is the result of visa requirements targeted at citizens of those countries producing higher numbers of asylum seekers, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia. If refugees are enabled to seek asylum only when outside their country of origin, but no safe haven grants them documents to safely travel to their destination, the only remaining option is to embark on unseaworthy boats.
In this light, Australia’s plans to outsource refugee obligations to countries with less geo-political muscle in the region are no solution. Refugees impeded from travelling to Australia do not stay put in their country of origin. They travel to, or end up in, alternative destinations where provisions for international protection may be lacking or weakly implemented, resulting in the increased vulnerability of asylum seekers. European states utilise “safe third country” and the Dublin II Regulation to evade their refugee protection obligations, leaving countries along EU external borders to cope with the influx. Malta houses refugees in conditions criticised by numerous human rights groups as unhygienic, isolating and over-crowded. Conditions in Greece have been characterised as tantamount to torture for returning asylum seekers. In Asia, countries such as Indonesia, Thailand and China are increasingly major destinations for asylum seekers. Extensive human rights violations against illegal populations in these countries have been documented.
Internationally, Australia’s insistence on offshore processing provides disgraceful leadership. The UK has been calling for offshore processing for some time under the auspices of “safe havens”. These would enable the UK to deport asylum seekers to an external processing site to await the restoration of stability in their country of origin. These plans set a time limit of six months. Current arrangements before Parliament have as yet no time limit. This is a paltry commitment to the Refugee Convention, particularly when Australia receives 2.5% of asylum applicants compared to other industrialised countries. Offshore processing will lead to legal uncertainty for populations of people easily identifiable as vulnerable. This impact is felt physically and mentally. Our research revealed that asylum seekers generally arrive in relatively good health. Their health rapidly deteriorates once they enter detention or are left on the verge of destitution in wealthy, industrialised nations, enduring protracted delays whilst refugee processing takes place. They are denied the freedom they aimed for, and that the 145 signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention claim to provide.
As human beings we may well understand the desire by many refugees to be reunited with family members. Unfortunately this right is in jeopardy across the globe. In Hong Kong there is no such right while the EU has introduced diluted forms of refugee protection for asylum seekers which do not include family reunion. The expert panel appear to be calling for a similar system with their recommendations to review refugee status determination in Australia. This impact can also be measured in deteriorating health, and in criminal justice prosecutions as people try to reunite with family using false documents or other means. Refugee arrivals will not stop. With these expert panel recommendations however, asylum seekers will continue to be construed as defying our rules, increasing calls for a tougher stance disguised as being humane.
Articles published in the Chinese “Oriental Daily” on 4 August 2012 – translated by Kashu Li
Interesting classes encourage inclusion into local life
It is only survival refugees asking for in Hong Kong, but now UNHCR and some NGOs could only provide limited support to them. A NGO which exclusively provide services for refugees has set up a shelter and organize interest classes and language lessons so that they could adapt to local lives, so that time is not wasted during their wait.
Vision First is the first local NGO which only focuses on serving refugees in Hong Kong. It’s shelter is located in Sai Ying Pun with more than 12 beds, facilities and furnishing are simple, but hygiene and tidy. Director Danielle Stutterd mentioned, most of the refugees are having a hard life and could not even support their own basic needs. For them, it is already very fortunate to get a place to stay at the shelter. Therefore, every one of them is disciplined. They take turns to clean up. It has been one year since the establishment of the shelter (August 2011) and there are never fights or theft. In order to foster social inclusion for the refugees, the NGO offers free interest and language classes. Susan joined a Cantonese class and has acquired basic Cantonese greetings, hoping to get along well with Hong Kongers. She even said “Leng Nui” (pretty lady) in Cantonese to reporters on scene!
There is a saying, “An idle brain is the devil’s workshop” and I believe the opposite is even more true. As an asylum-seeker, I used to feel disempowered by Immigration Laws that bar employment. Coming from a country where everyone works for a living, I was forced to beg for every single dollar. After a considerable period of idleness, I concluded that in fact I wasn’t as disabled as my situation suggested. It dawned on me that I had to do something about it. I realized that I was very RICH, just not in money, but in knowledge. Following the adage, “the poor ask for more, while the rich ask for better,” I was determined to ask for better in Hong Kong - my prison without walls.
What did I have to offer? I asked myself. I had a story to share … but tell it to whom? Tell it to anybody who cares to listen. Wow!!! There you go, I had something to do. I picked up a pen and jotted down whatever entered my mind. Then I discovered the work I was fleshing out was taking form. A small voice inside me whispered, “Bravo, kept it up!” I burned the candle at both ends and knew it wasn’t fiction, but a true story, a life story – my life! As time passed, I became a veteran asylum-seeker, senior among many, and I was thankfully happy I kept busy. In December 2007 I completed my first booklet and called it: “The Life of an asylum-seekers in Hong Kong“. Writing kept me so busy I hardly kept track of my refugee claim. After the Asia Human Rights Commission published it, I was invited to talk about my experience at several institutions, including Hong Kong International School, Chinese University, Hong Kong University and Baptist University. These were wonderful opportunities to meet students, teachers and many people from all walks of life. It was a two-ways street of learning, I learnt from them, while they learnt from me. Especially meaningful was meeting Prof.Gordon Mathews (Globalization) and Prof. Christophe (Political Violence & Human Rights ) with whom friendship developed.
I never stopped counting my blessings. While writing, I also studied anthropology and improved my English. Moreover, I thought about the poor kids in my homeland who had no school, and therefore no education. Before coming here, I dreamed of founding a school to help the poorest children prepare for the future. In my country, following prolonged civil war, there is a large street community of women and children with no hope for the future. I wanted to help them, so I looked for donations to set up something. I must thank Crossroads International that donated more than what I asked for. They helped fulfill my dream of opening a primary school – thank you Begbies and all their staff!
As a Christian I realize my blessings cannot be counted. All along I have been involved with St. Andrews, which is my home away from home. They keep me strong in many more ways than just spiritual. My church is a big family where everyone is welcomed and treated equally. I help them lead the International Fellowship Ministry which caters to refugees stranded in Hong Kong. Through my ministry I really learnt to love my neighbors as myself. A big thanks to Vicar John Manear, Rev. Wing On Pang, David Brittel, Vivian, Shirley and all my brothers and sisters in Christ. No matter what your life circumstances are, living means interacting with people. I had the privilege to meet a great gentleman I will never forget all my life - the late Rev. Tan Chi Kiong. He was the founder of YMCA Hong Kong. Actually, he was like a grandfather to me, a man of great wisdom who encouraged my second Book “Africasia Alike” (soon to be published). May the Lord God rest his soul in eternal life!
Further, I have always thought it important to dress well, much to the surprise of who thinks I have a respectable job. Thankfully there are charities that offer quality clothing through community’s generosity. Also, Prof. Mathew provided computers to his refugee students and Mr. Vision First (Cosmo) always helps with my monthly costs, including offering internet access to keep me informed. Thanks to you all! There are many other individuals who helped me think positively during seven, disheartening years of asylum. They are counselors, Madam Betty Mok at UNHCR and Mr. John at Christian Actions. I went through terrible times and couldn’t have coped without their kind, professional help. I spoke at a couple of movie openings and met my favorite movie star – Jacky Chan – who signed the shirt I was wearing and still keep as a souvenir. Finally, my friend Judith Mackay of Globalink Hong Kong is not only a mentor in the tobacco field, but also a helpful friend in my protracted need. Always aiming to keep busy with every opportunity, I completed ten training modules from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (Global Tobacco Control) and won a Poetry Competition with “Sense of Asylum”.
I wrote this blog to encourage my friends who are struggling as refugees. May you stand strong, take heart and never lose hope in your darkest nights. While waiting in desperate inactivity, never feel useless and never, ever allow anyone to make you feel worthless. Being a refugee is not your fault. There is dignity to be found in our suffering and, far from being disabled, there is much we can offer the community. By keeping busy and actively engaging people, you can transcend the trauma and memories that hold you back. It takes effort. It takes courage. We can make the transformation when we put our mind to it. God has a plan for you – get up, go out and discover for yourself what his plan is!
Lakony Wilson DD (firstname.lastname@example.org)
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you – then you win”
I’m young Somalian Refugee in Africa, I read about Vision First. I really love the way there working for refugee in Hong Kong. I have a lot of problems personally my country. One day to another day is always going on war here. Al shabaab group is killing people with out any thinking about it. Only killing people. I’m naturally researching about refugee in Africa.
Thanks Vision First for your good work for the refugee in Hong Kong.
The day u help human beings, you will get assistance from God.
This summer, thanks to AC Milan Soccer School (Football for Life), the Vision First football team had the opportunities to enjoy free, professional training sessions every Saturday! Now the Vision First Football team has opportunities to receive regular and organized football activities to enhance their skills, their team spirit and, most importantly … to have FUN! With such generous donations of training sessions, coaches and the chance to play on a beautiful artificial turf pitch, our soccer-crazy members enjoyed and learnt a lot from the well-designed training sessions - AC Milan style!
“This is a good chance for us to play football. Before AC Milan soccer school’s donation we do not have much chance to train ourselves. By regular training we are becoming more experienced in skills like shooting and passing, and with more training sessions we are becoming more experienced.” – Adele.