On September 28, 2014, social worker Jeffrey Andrews received an unlikely call from an old friend who has served time in jailhouses and rehabilitation centres.
“Come to Admiralty. It’s crazy what’s happening to us,” the friend told Andrews.
“Are you crazy? We are non-Chinese and we would be the first target of police,” he replied.
On that day, Hong Kong police fired 87 rounds of tear gas at pro-democracy protesters in the city’s financial district. The protest would last for 79 days, with demonstrators occupying major thoroughfares.
Despite safety concerns, Andrews went ahead and sent messages to his friends. The next day, Andrews and around 50 friends held a rally at the Occupy sites. They marched from the campsite in Admiralty to the one in Causeway Bay, holding banners with messages such as “Hong Kong is our home” and “We are Hong Kong.”
The rally became a daily ritual until the Admiralty campsite was shut down nearly three months later. They were welcomed with open arms by other protesters, who invited them to discussions and other activities.
“At that moment, I realised I am truly a Hongkonger,” Andrews told HKFP.
Born and raised in Hong Kong, 31-year-old Andrews is a social worker at NGO Christian Action, where he looks after the needs of refugees. Outside work hours, he advocates racial integration by organising events with friends whom he participated in the Occupy protests with.
The Indian-descent is now seeking greater social participation by applying to serve on government advisory bodies.
In celebration of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, think tank Zubin Foundation released a “diversity list” on Tuesday recommending 22 ethnic minority individuals to the government for consideration for advisory positions. Andrews is among the nominees.
Applicants went through a vigorous selection process, conducted by recruitment firm Spencer Stuart. Selection criteria included having significant experience in their field of work and a certain standing in their profession.
Among those selected were business leaders, legal professionals, educators, a journalist and a physician.
Though members of the public can apply to the Home Affairs Bureau for positions on government committees, there are complaints over the lack of transparency in the selection process.
Andrews said that if he applied directly to the bureau, he would likely not be considered because he is a vocal critic of government policies on ethnic minorities.
In 2015, the Zubin Foundation found that only 1.9 per cent of 1,454 appointees on 100 advisory bodies were of ethnic minority descent. Of the ethnic minority appointees, only 21 per cent were non-white.
In response, the foundation produced a diversity list last year, recommending 16 ethnic minority people to the government. Five of them were later appointed to advisory bodies, including the Committee on the Promotion of Racial Harmony and the Independent Police Complaints Council.
On Tuesday, it published a new list with 22 nominees. “This population [of ethnic minorities] brings local knowledge, self-defines with a Hong Kong identity and is committed to staying in Hong Kong. This population should be included in advisory committees of our government,” said Shalini Mahtani, founder and chair of the Zubin Foundation.
Andrews said that when he saw last year’s diversity list, he felt that the nominees were people who were “more well-to-do, or already established.” But he was motivated to apply this year after seeing the foundation “make great efforts to reach out to all walks of life.”
Mahtani told HKFP that assessors only looked at the merits of the applications, without any consideration of one’s financial status. She said the foundation hopes to do more to increase the diversity of the applicant pool.
According to the government’s 2016 by-census, 8 per cent of the city’s 7.3 million residents are of ethnic minority descent.
In her report on the status of the city’s ethnic minorities, the University of Hong Kong’s law professor Puja Kapai found that many non-Chinese residents are excluded from participating in public life for reasons such as language barriers and inadequate employment opportunities, preventing them from developing a sense of belonging to the city.
Lawmaker Claudia Mo told HKFP that the state of racial equality in Hong Kong is “very depressing.”
“I don’t think the government actually cares about ethnic minority interests or rights,” she said. “On the whole, I have the impression that [the authorities] are good at talking… but nothing would be done.”
Mo warned that excluding ethnic minority voices from the policymaking process would prevent the government from “paying attention to actual problems.”
“It would be ideal to have someone who can talk direct about community problems to give a feel to the problem, so that it’s not just words on paper,” she said.
Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung said Tuesday that the city’s bureaux will draw reference from the diversity list when considering appointments to advisory bodies.
Meanwhile, Mahtani said the foundation plans to target talent below the age of 40 for next year’s list. “There have been talks in the chief executive election about engaging the youth. We want to make sure the young population is also engaged with,” she said.
Andrews, one of the youngest nominees on Tuesday, said he is grateful for the nomination and hopes to bring the grassroots voice into the advisory bodies.
“I really feel it is time they reached out to people like us and took us seriously,” he said. “I hope they will give us ethnic minorities a chance to be part of Hong Kong.”