News / Asia

Hong Kong Demo Shines Spotlight on Refugee Suffering

Ivan Broadhead
In downtown Hong Kong, refugees continue a six-week protest outside the social welfare department of the semi-autonomous Chinese city.  Denied the right to work, living on food handouts and apparently housed in accommodations unfit for humans, the protest is focusing attention on the harsh conditions faced by refugees and asylum seekers in one of the world’s wealthiest cities.

About 6,000 asylum seekers live in Hong Kong, perhaps hoping one day to share in the prosperity of a city in which the World Bank calculates per capita GDP exceeds that of the United States.

Barred from seeking employment even if granted refugee status, Refugee Union leader Saeid Mohammadi says asylum seekers in Hong Kong are marginalized and destitute.

In 21 years, he says, the government has approved asylum for only 11 out of 13,000 victims of torture.  He says he has been in a stateless limbo since fleeing Afghanistan seven years ago.

“Hong Kong signed the [U.N.] torture convention.  But their policy is to keep refugees in extreme poverty, destroy them mentally so they will commit some crime.  Then the police will arrest them and reject their case because they broke the law - this is what [they] want," said Mohammadi.

Early morning commuters rush to offices in downtown skyscrapers as a pregnant Nepali refugee emerges from a tent pitched on the sidewalk.

Lama Inu, 30, and dozens of her peers occupy a protest camp outside Hong Kong’s Social Welfare Department.

Their aim is to highlight the plight of refugees forced to choose between living in poverty in Hong Kong or returning to countries where their lives may be in danger.

In a city often cited as the most expensive in the world, most refugees survive on a rental allowance of $200 a month, and three monthly food parcels from the Social Welfare Department.

Food and rent are provided under a $26 million contract won by Swiss-headquartered NGO, International Social Services.
 
The food is cheap and often rancid, the refugees allege.  And last month, a judge issued an injunction ordering International Social Services to fulfill its obligations when its staff failed to pay Inu’s rent.

“My landlord kicked me out.  I begged them: we had no home, clothes, nothing.  For four days I did not change my dress or take a shower.  The doctor admitted me to hospital because I might have a problem with my baby.  We are suffering.  But I will fight," said Inu.

While International Social Services did not comment, a Social Welfare Department statement said its contractor has been providing [refugees] with in-kind services on its behalf since 2006.

It said this was “to prevent [refugees] becoming destitute … while not creating a magnet effect” that draws more refugees to Hong Kong.  

The Social Welfare Department added that before providing rent, “ISS would also conduct spot checks and home visits to premises to assess the hygiene, home environment and safety condition [sic].”  

But traveling into the countryside with advocacy group Vision First, VOA was introduced to South Asian refugees housed in a run down pigsty.

Asylum seeker Shahzad Khan, from Pakistan, points to his mattress lying beside a feeding trough.  Electrical wires dangle under a holed roof and an open sewer runs nearby.   

“We do not need anything from them, money or food.  We just want work.  When I came here I went to work, but spent 15 months in prison [as a result].  You can see, this place is for animals.  There is no future here," said Khan.

Angered by our presence, we are set upon by the landlords of the pigsty Khan shares with 15 other refugees.

While we are forced to leave, like thousands of other asylum seekers, Khan does not know how long he will be trapped in one of the wealthiest cities on Earth.

You May Like

US Investors Eye IPO for China's Alibaba

E-commerce giant handled 80 percent of China's online business last year, logging more Internet transactions than US-based Amazon.com and eBay combined More

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

As cease-fire begins, Palestinians celebrate in streets; Israelis remain wary More

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

In treatment of a 12-year-old boy Chinese doctors used a 3-D printer and special software to create an exact replica of vertebra More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implanti
X
August 27, 2014 4:53 PM
A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. VOA News reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Northern California Quake: No Way to Know When Next One Will Hit

A magnitude 6.0 earthquake rocked northern California’s Napa Valley on Sunday. Roads twisted and water mains burst. It was the wine country’s most severe quake in 15 years, and while hospitals treated many people, no one was killed. Arash Arabasadi has more from Washington on what the future may hold for those residents living on a fault line.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ukraine: Captured Troops Proof of Russian Role in Separatist Fight

Ukrainian officials say they have captured Russian soldiers on Ukrainian territory -- the latest accusation of Moscow's involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the Ukrainian side of the battle, where soldiers are convinced of Russia's role.
Video

Video Rubber May Soon Come From Dandelions

Synthetic rubber has been around for more than a century, but quality tires for cars, trucks and aircraft still need up to 40 percent or more natural rubber content. As the source of natural rubber, the rubber tree, is prone to disease and can be affected by bad weather. So scientists are looking for replacements. And as VOA’s George Putic reports, they may have found one in a ubiquitous weed.
Video

Video Jewish Life in Argentina Reflected in Yiddish Tango

Jewish people from across Europe and Russia have been immigrating to Argentina for hundreds of years. They brought with them dance music that were eventually mixed with Argentine tango. The result is Yiddish tango -- a fusion of melodies and cultural experiences that is still evolving today. Elizabeth Lee reports from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where one band is bringing Yiddish tango to an American audience.

AppleAndroid