A series of news features by Worker News debunking the idea that asylum seekers arriving in Hong Kong are “fake refugees” has won the Best Journalism Award in the 2016 E-Citizen Awards organised by civic groups InMedia and the Culture and Media Education Foundation to promote original reporting, political cartoons, video documentary and photography online.
Inspired by a Facebook page that recorded the 40-day strike by Hong Kong dock workers in 2013, a number of supporters of the strike decided to start a news site that gives a platform to ordinary people. Worker News, as it was called, was then launched in August 2013.
The news site is maintained by half a dozen volunteers. Most of them have full-time jobs, and they decided in July 2015 to donate one-tenth of their income to hire part-time staff for the site’s editorial work.
In addition to reporting on local labour conditions, they also translate news related to workers’ rights from other parts of the world.
The work that won them an E-Citizen Award was a series of five stories taking to task the idea, pushed by local politicians and media outlets, that asylum seekers arriving in Hong Kong are “fake refugees.”
The first story was about the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying threatened to quit the convention to stop “fake refugees” from entering Hong Kong last year. In response, Worker News reporters interviewed human rights organisations to point out that doing so would mean that Hong Kong’s government would not be obliged to set up an independent committee to investigate police abuse of power.
The second story explained the decade-long court dispute on the Hong Kong government’s failure in setting up a fair torture claimant system for screening asylum seekers. The legal dispute has resulted in the suspension of screening torture claimant applications in December 2009. As a result, 6,699 asylum seekers were stuck in Hong Kong awaiting for a new screening mechanism.
Only in February 2014 did the Hong Kong government launch a unified screening mechanism to process torture claimant. The accumulative number of torture claims had, by then, reached 11,364.
The third article debunked three false claims spread by local mainstream media and politicians about refugees – first, that they are fake; second, that they come to Hong Kong to enjoy a free meal; and third, that they are criminals.
The fourth article recounted the numerous false claims, stereotypes and discriminatory remarks about asylum seekers and refugees by local mainstream media and pro-Beijing politicians.
The last piece was a story about an asylum seeker from Jos, a city in Nigeria. As a Christian, she said she had became a likely target of attack by Muslim militants in the region. Her plan was to travel to Canada for asylum, but she was held up in Hong Kong by immigration authorities. She has been stuck in Hong Kong now for six years with her three kids.
Worker News writer Tam Kong explained why they decided to follow the story:
Two members of the Worker News editorial team devoted themselves to reviewing Hong Kong’s refugee system and history, and they used infographics to help readers better understand the issue:
Sustainability is a challenge when it comes to a news site. Ah Fei, another member from the editorial team, said:
What drives Worker News contributors to carry on with their work is not the number of page views, but the mission to build a grassroots community where workers can learn about and be inspired by one another. To do so, they have been building up a distribution network among labour union organisers and NGOs to channel their news stories to workers and other ordinary people.