Written by Michelle Ng //
Home is a place where I am safe, I can relax, and I feel connected. Therefore, it seems to me that people who have left their homes have made a very difficult decision. In Hong Kong people migrate to other countries because of political concerns or economic development; migrant workers leave their homes for better job opportunities; asylum seekers (AS) and refugees leave their homes for survival. People just want a home, after all.
I love Hong Kong, and it is my home. Touring foreign friends around Hong Kong is one of my favorite activities. Recently, a friend of a Hong Kong youth group, Global Youth Connect (GYC), shared with me during a tour to Sham Shui Po, “Hong Kong is such a special place, with both the international city and the natural world, both prosperity and poverty, both globalized and traditional sides.” Most people may think that Hong Kong is an international city with people of different nationalities and values, where we show generosity and tolerance towards each other. However, in this century, it is also a place full of boundaries which separate and disconnect people, especially those who migrate. With generational differences, low social mobility, and different political opinions, the invisible boundaries become more visible and intensified. People focus on striving for their own home, and become indifferent to others’ homes.
Immigrants, including AS and refugees, are some of the most unwelcome, marginalized, and isolated in Hong Kong. While the political campaigns smear AS and refugees and Hong Kong government’s policy unwelcome them, Hong Kong people receive information from only one perspective. They grow to think that these people steal Hong Kong’s resources. Discrimination and distrust come from ignorance. People do not know how torturous the assessment procedure, system, and welfare are for the AS, or how difficult their life is in Hong Kong. The assessment procedure in Hong Kong is extremely long, because of translation, certification documents and more. Some of the longest cases I heard of are more than 15 years, and they are still in the assessment process, waiting. To add more, AS and refugees in Hong Kong are not allowed to work, and can only get $1500 HKD for housing subsidies, $1200 HKD supermarket coupons for food and few hundred HKD for transportation, while the average renting price for an apartment with 1 bedroom in non-central district is around $10000HKD. However, without person-to-person interaction, these are just number that most people cannot imagine. I believe that only through person-to-person communication can people know the AS, refugees, or other migrants as people of different cultures, instead of only as a status.
I am not a professional and not a social worker; I am not a psychologist who can help them with their emotional and psychological needs; I am not a lawyer who can help with legal issues. I am just a Hong Kong citizen who loves Hong Kong so much, and wants people whoever comes to Hong Kong to feel at home. I am also a member of a GYC, which is a family that connects people with diversity. We try to connect Hong Kong youth, mainland youth, AS and refugees with each other and with the community.
Sports are one of the most comfortable ways for me to connect; unlike welfare, government systems, or people, sports do not discriminate. Most of my AS and refugee friends do sports. We can always swim, hike, bike and play ball games together. I teach some of my AS friends swimming, and sometimes invite my mum to join as well. After few months, the swimming group became a closer group, and we have had more gathering outside of swimming classes. I love to invite them to join my family gatherings, and one time we went to Sai Kung beach for some water sports. They shared that they loved that place; it made them feel like they were back home in their country in nature with houses in the distance. We had a great day talking, playing and sharing our different cultures together.
I don’t agree with the Hong Kong policy in prohibiting the AS’s right to work; however, AS actually contribute to the community in other ways. “Equal Share” is a program that encourages GYC members to visit and share necessities and food with homeless people. We contribute to the community by talking to people who don’t have a “home” and listening to their story of staying on street. “[The homeless people] are actually so ready and willing to share their story with us, they are just sitting there and waiting for someone to listen to them,” one AS friend shared in surprise after their first-time visit. Even with limited English, and mostly body language, they made friends. People in this society are eager to share their story, and this is how we connect people and community.
GYC has also gone for school tours to teach students about the AS and refugees’ situation in Hong Kong. Through presentations, sharing from our AS or refugee friends, drama, music performance, football matches and more, we connect with students who almost never knew about the asylum-seeking issues in Hong Kong. Sometimes I doubt whether it helps in any way for them to talk through their experience of escaping, complain about their daily life difficulties (especially those dealing with the system), and talk about the dreams that they had. We may not solve anything for them, but we listen. Bit by bit, from face-to-face interaction, Hong Kong people will know that people with diversity are all the same. We all just strive for a place to rest.
Hong Kong is where I was born, where I grew, and the place I love. The more I love this place, the more I want to break the boundaries between people, help connect people with the city, and make them feel like this is home. To start, we smile with people, talk to them, and listen to them.
GYC is a diverse youth group where Hong Kong locals, mainland Chinese, and asylum seekers from Africa and the Middle East come together. Through team building activities and outdoor trips, sharing with each other, and learning from each other’s differences we learn to understand diversity. Together we unite to promote greater awareness of asylum seeker issues in our society, and also engage in service work to contribute to the local community. It is supported by Endowment for Youth Global Development and under Youth Global Network in Hong kong. https://www.facebook.com/EYGD.hk/
Cost of Living in Hong kong, Prices in Hong Kong, retrieved on 28th November, 2018, at https://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/country_result.jsp?country=Hong+Kong
Michelle Ng was born in and lives in Hong Kong, where she works as a research assistant in the University of Hong Kong on law and human rights-related research projects. She is interested in gender equality and refugee issues. She is also a swimmer, runner and hiker. Connect with her at email@example.com.