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Oriental Daily – 4 August 2012

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Articles published in the Chinese “Oriental Daily” on 4 August 2012 – translated by Kashu Li

Somali refugees having fun on the football pitch

“Even if fate gives you a harder life than ever, you still have to struggle for life within death.” Ali from Somalia voice out the heart of 6,000 refugees present in Hong Kong. For people who escaped from war in other parts of the world for Hong Kong seeking asylum, they have left their home and their significant others. Most of them rely on little financial support to make ends meet while waiting for a third country to accommodate them. During this long wait, each of them has their own story of bitterness, some are depressed and exhausted, some struggle to survive. Recently a group of refugees formed a football team, in which they temporary put aside their troubles through sweat on the pitch, and in search of their self-value.

No jobs and little subsidy for a life of hardship

UNHCR is now processing about 600 refugee recognition applications; while the Immigration Department has now about 6,000 CAT cases in process. However, the efficiency of the recognition process has been very slow at a point that only 1,700 cases has been processed and only one out of them has become a successful claim, starting from fall 2009. Some refugees only have $2,000 to $3,000 subsidy per month during their 6 to 7 years stay, while permit to work is not allowed to be issued for this population. Therefore, they are living a hard life, a family from Africa, for instance, has been staying in Hong Kong for 7 years, could only be confined in a room less than 300 square feet, longing to be resettled in a third country, but no hope so far.

Waiting, could erode determination, but could also motivate self-enhancement. Last month, under the help of a NGO, a group of Somali refugees are joining training sessions every week offered by a soccer school voluntarily. The training sessions not only build up their strength and stamina, but also broadened their minds, and to have fun playing football. “When you focus on playing football, you will not put all your focus on being disturbed by unsolvable problems.” said Bru, the coach. Players on the pitch have shown laughter that is seldom seen, like their sweat has carried their troubles away. Captain Ali said he has come to Hong Kong for two years and is struggling to make ends meet, but he never gave up his dreams. He loves studying, and figured out the cheapest transportation route, which costs only $5 from Sham Shui Po to University of Hong Kong sitting for lectures. “I love studying, but I cannot apply for any courses in Hong Kong, and this is the only way I could learn and to add-value for myself.” Holding a BBA degree, he faced civil war in his country of origin shortly after his graduation, thus being forced to leave for Hong Kong, hoping for resettlement in the United States, a place where he could advance his studies.

Soccer is a sport that is opened to all classes and nationalities. Michael, a team member, mentioned he has never played football in his home country but in Hong Kong, and he has the chance to run freely on the pitch like the locals do. “At least out of boredom I could do something meaningful here!” “Sometimes they will go to churches or charities as volunteers, to actualize their talent and do something for the society.” said Kashu, one of the Vision First’s crew, “Many refugees have attained higher education. They are not all criminals nor ‘fortune seekers’, hoping that Hong Kongers could drop their prejudice and try to understand this population of “involuntary sojourners”.

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!

Vision First’s emergency shelter for refugees – the only one in Hong Kong