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Hong Kong’s Worker News wins award for series debunking myths about refugees

By InMedia.

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.

WKNews

Worker News.

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.

‘Fake refugees’

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.

refugees fake dab

File photo: HKFP.

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.

refugees human rights

File photo: Dan Garrett.

Worker News writer Tam Kong explained why they decided to follow the story:

In recent years, Hong Kong society has developed very strong prejudices against people coming from other countries. If the person is a refugee, people assume that they are dirty and uncultured, they are here to enjoy free food, bring trouble… all these groundless prejudices keep spreading. When the political parties and media use these false narratives to score political points, it is our responsibility to present a more genuine picture to the public.
近年在香港,只要是外來人口就有原罪。一講他是難民,背後就有一大堆假設:他是來免費食我們的糧食、搞亂香港、污糟、沒有文化……全部都在未經證實的情況下散播… 當政黨和媒體挪用這些虛假印象去獲取利益,惟工的責任就是還原事實。

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:

Refugees have been coming in and out of Hong Kong throughout history. A big portion of Hong Kong’s population is from mainland China. Many Hongkongers have been forced to migrate to other countries to escape from political instability… the motivations of people who escape to Hong Kong through illegal channels and Hongkongers emigrating to other countries through proper channels are similar. They just want to carry on living in a stable environment.
香港的歷史,就是難民進進出出的歷史。香港人口有一大部份是內地移民,同時也有很多香港人,由於害怕政治不穩而移居別國…在某些情況下,那些人要以政府不容許的方法來到香港,而有些人用政府容許的方法離開香港,去到其他地方,但其實背後的邏輯很相似,就是要逃避不穩定,到一個比較安穩的地方,繼續生活。
kwai chung

The 2013 dockworkers strike. Photo: Apple Daily.

Sustainability is a challenge when it comes to a news site. Ah Fei, another member from the editorial team, said:

Running an online media is not as easy as people imagine. The rules of the game are similar to conventional media. If you don’t have the resources to promote the platform and produce enough stories, the outlets will end up with very few visits.
搞網媒其實不是門檻低的事。現在新的網媒興起,基本上是紙媒那種資本競爭的延伸。你沒錢賣廣告,沒有資源涵蓋更多議題,就會令收視跌。

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.

The interview with Worker News volunteer reporters was conducted by Betty Lau in Chinese and published on InMedia on December 16, 2016. The English article originally appeared on Global Voices.

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Hong Kong's Worker News wins award for series debunking myths about refugees