We are a group of asylum seekers and refugees in Hong Kong. We are increasingly concerned about the way we are being portrayed in the media and in the larger community. We often see labels like “criminals”, “fake”, “illegal immigrants” and a “nuisance to society”. We are deeply affected by this discriminatory and hostile language and feel that these representations are really inaccurate.
We are people from different countries and backgrounds with one thing in common: we had to flee from our countries to seek protection. We did not want to leave our homes. We were forced to because of war, conflict or persecution due to our religion, ethnicity, political beliefs or gender, for example. Many of us were tortured, beaten, raped, or unlawfully detained. We have escaped from situations that so many others did not survive, and had to leave so much behind along the way – possessions, professions and people we love.
We left because we refused to live in fear and an inhuman situation in our home countries, yet we find ourselves in one here. We did not “choose” to come to Hong Kong; for most of us it was a mere coincidence, and we certainly did not come here for “benefits”. Life here is miserable and degrading. Although we have basic security, and are grateful for this, we have no freedom or future here.
We are worried that the negative portrayal in the media and by certain politicians increases negative stigmas and discrimination towards us. In our day-to-day-lives here, if we introduce ourselves to someone as being an asylum seeker or a refugee, people then avoid us. We lose friends. We are worried that misinformed public opinion will then influence policies and laws that will have a negative impact on us – maybe that is the intent in the first place. In many of our home countries, we have seen how incitement to hatred can result in xenophobia and even physical harm towards targeted groups. This kind of language therefore worries us greatly.
The truth is you cannot simply make generalisations about any one group in society. There will be bad apples everywhere. Whoever commits a crime should be responsible and face the law. In reality, nonetheless, we are people with things to offer who would like to be able to contribute to society and the economy here. We wish we could do more, but we are not allowed to. We would like to provide for ourselves and be independent. We would like to give back. We, like anyone else, want to be useful and realize our own potential. We try our best to keep ourselves busy, but there is so much more we could do. We feel we face so many roadblocks to having normalcy in our lives.
It seems that blame is being put on us who are seeking protection in the Unified Screening Mechanism, rather than reflecting on the weaknesses in the system itself. There are many problems in the USM that cause us delays or poor decision-making on our cases. For example, lack of available interpretation in some of the languages we speak, when this is so crucial to have a fair chance in the system. This is because we have to recount difficult information and need to make sure we can accurately explain our story in our native tongue. Another problem is that many of the officers have little information about our country and little background research on the situation there. In terms of backlogs, many of us have been waiting a long time to even be attended for a first interview – some of us for several years.
Lastly, we feel that officials have a preconceived idea that we are not genuine from the get-go, or that we came here for economic reasons, and that this may then have an impact on decision-making in the case. Many of us have experiences of being told by immigration officers or case workers things like, “You made a bad choice to come to Hong Kong” or “Go back to your country.” There should be a presumption of innocence before our case is decided. However, the frequently thrown-around label “fake refugees” goes against this, as most people are still in the process of having their cases decided on.
We are not “illegal” or “fake”; we do not accept these labels. We should be treated equally as human beings. Seeking asylum is a basic human right all over the world – including in Hong Kong. It is not fair to portray us in a negative way when we are not even given the chance here in Hong Kong to prove ourselves. This kind of language used by the media and politicians only causes us more distress and re-opens old wounds when we are trying to heal from the abuses we faced. They should stop scapegoating us and address the weaknesses in the system instead.
This article has been written by a group of asylum-seekers and refugees that form part of a refugee-led community group called Social Justice Alliance, which seeks to create a positive image of the refugee community within Hong Kong and is supported by Justice Centre Hong Kong.