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

Guatemala Mudslide Death Toll Rises to 86

Death toll is expected to continue to rise as emergency crews dig through tons of earth for an estimated 350 people still missing More

Debris Found in Search for Missing Ship

Objects located Sunday have not yet been confirmed to be from the 240 meter container ship, El Faro, which disappeared in the eye of Hurricane Joaquin, according to US Coast Guard More

Survivor: Gunman Spared 'Lucky One' to Give Police Message

Law enforcement official says a manifesto of several pages was recovered; contents not revealed More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs