hong kong

Hong Kong minorities ‘marginalised’ in school

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Ethnic minorities in Hong Kong are “marginalised” by the education system, says a university study.

It found children of minority families do not get enough support to learn Cantonese – putting them behind in school and causing long-term problems in the jobs market.

Read the whole story on BBC News here.

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Hong Kong refugee welfare changes ‘disappointing’

Reugees sit on a ledge overlooking the city

Photo: SoCo

Long-awaited welfare changes to affect thousands of refugees, have come into effect today in Hong Kong. 

Increases in rental and food assistance, utility expenses and help with rental deposits are among the improvements.

But the policy still doesn’t include the right to work, even after residing in the city for a long period of time.

A Central African lawyer-turned-charity worker, who came to Hong Kong to seek asylum in 2004, is among many who say it’s not enough. 

Robert, who fled civil war and persecution in his country, says, “It’s not at all enough. In fact, in Hong Kong there’s no way you can get a room for HK$1500. It’s just a kind of cave, a place where you put your bed, nothing more.”

The value of the food bag given to refugees and asylum seekers, three to six times a month, has increased to HK$1200, working out at HK$13 per meal (£1 / US$1.7).

Financial help towards utilities has gone up a mere HK$40, though research from the Refugee Concern Network shows that 88% of refugees are unable to afford the utilities they require.

African migrants

Photo: J.Castle

Somali journalist Ibraahim Jeekey, who claimed asylum in Hong Kong around 5 months ago, says, “If I tell you the truth, 5 months and above, I am not calling my children. So I don’t know if they’re alive or dead. But the problem is that you cannot get $1 in Hong Kong to buy a [phone] card.”

The Government argues that their assistance to refugees is aid, not welfare.

But Albert Ho, democratic legislator and member of the panel on Welfare Services, explains that, “The Government says they don’t want to send a signal to the outside world that Hong Kong welcomes refugees.”

“In other words, if you want to come [here] you have to lead a very difficult life. It’s inhuman, it’s uncivilised.”

The Hong Kong Government set a poverty threshold in late 2013.

Cosmo Beatson, co-founder of refugee advocacy group Vision First, says, “the previous refugee welfare package oppressed them at 37% below that rate. And even with the increase, they remain at 20% below the poverty rate.”

Julee Allen, manager of Christian Action in Hong Kong, explains, “they struggle they really do. I see people who come and sell their belongings, their jewellery, piece by piece, to bring in a bit of additional income.”

The waiting game

The People’s Republic of China signed the Refugee Convention in 1951. But it was never extended to include Hong Kong, which currently has no refugee laws.

The city signed the Convention on Torture in 1992, yet has a near to zero acceptance rate.

Asylum claims are currently assessed by the UNHCR before a decision is made by the Immigration Department, who also deal with torture claims.

As a result, both asylum seekers and torture claimants often wait many years for a decision to be made on their status.

Research by the Refugee Concern Network shows that 13% of asylum seekers wait 7-8 years and 29% wait more than 9 years.

Ibraahim says, “Here is a community of 75 Somalis living in asylum. Really they become crazy because they sit here in the same place for 3 years, 4 years, 7 years.”

Photo: BillyHCKwok

Photo: BillyHCKwok

“Your pockets are empty. Really we are sleeping and eating only. We go to the mosque to pray, and we go to our home.”

Currently, around 1,900 asylum seekers and 4,200 torture claimants are still awaiting decisions on their claims, according to the Hong Kong Refugee Advice Centre (HKRAC).

“We see a lot of depression from the months and years of waiting. The people we see are former professionals. Not being able to work is enormously demoralising,” Julee explains.

“They want to give back to Hong Kong, but the laws set up around their status forbid it. They can’t work, they depend on the state, they’re not even allowed to volunteer.”

Neither recognised refugees or asylum seekers are allowed to work in the city, and face 22 months in prison for taking part in work illegally.

Cosmo points out that, “Robbery in Hong Kong, gets 7-8 months [in prison], for prostitution you get 2-3 months, so these policies are actually forcing criminality.”

Most other countries that accept refugees allow them to work if a decision hasn’t been made on their status after a year. But refugees in Hong Kong can wait 10 years or more in limbo.

Photo: BillyHCKwok

Photo: BillyHCKwok

A right to dignity

A case being heard at Hong Kong’s highest court includes three recognised refugees and one successful torture claimant, who are fighting for the right to earn a living

All of them have been in Hong Kong for more than 10 years.

If successful, the outcome of the hearing may be a watershed moment for refugees and asylum seekers in the city, allowing many more in desperate situations to work.

Mark Daly, the lawyer who is fighting the case, says, “The arguments that we’re running are based on basic law and the International Human Rights Convention – the right to privacy and the right to avoid cruel and degrading treatment.”

“So it’s really an indicator of how far Hong Kong courts will go to uphold human rights.”

At the discretion of the Director of Immigration, Robert was recently granted the right to work and spends his days helping other refugees in need.

“I have recovered part of my dignity and my privacy.  I really felt lost on one hand, and on the other hand I was feeling useless. Because I couldn’t get any opportunity to use my talents, my energy and my strength.”

“The Government should think how they can make use of this community. Among them there are many talented people and they can contribute to society in Hong Kong.”

Hong Kong: Party Town

A perfect mix of traditional and modern, Hong Kong is a city that celebrates ancient Chinese festivals in its own style. This article that I wrote for Asian Geographic Passport magazine includes some of the things that go on around this time of year in the metropolis.

Beneath the Surface of Asia’s World City [the documentary]

With my mental bar for a good documentary set rather high, (partially down to my lecturer David) I will always have criticisms of my own work. But I am now ready to share this documentary with you all. Constraints regarding the duration of the film having to be 15 minutes did mean many things were compromised, including the depth and details of each issue covered. Please give feedback by commenting on my blog or on YouTube, and if anybody does deem it worthy or more eyes, please share it or tweet it #BeneathTheSurface via @jodylan89.

In case anyone missed previous posts about the documentary’s topic, read ‘Initial thoughts on HK’s ethnic relations‘ and ‘Hong Kong: Racism or Ignorance?’

Credits

Camera/Editor/Producer: Jody-Lan Castle

Sound: Catalin Anton

Colour correction: Aaron Kay

Translation: Elaine Yu, Manjeet Brar and my jaan.

And a big THANK YOU to everybody who helped me make this in small ways or big.

Hong Kong: Racism or ignorance?

I have learned a lot since the last post on racism in Hong Kong, having filmed and interviewed many great people. Time to empty my head…

Fortunately for me, I got to chill out with the ‘Sikhs in the City‘, the first HK-born Indian Dragon Boat Race team. Team leader Gurmeet Singh expressed their excitement at getting to take part in something that even his Father’s generation hadn’t. Anyone watching (and many people did) as the 12 Punjabi men switched seemlessly between Punjabi and Cantonese (and English to speak to me), could plainly see how someone can be both Indian AND Hongkongnese. And the people around them really seemed to appreciate them (at least on Cheung Chau they did).

Punjabi Hong Kong dragon boat team

We sat to eat an array of Chinese seafood dishes. And the irony was that I (with a Chinese appearance) was the only one struggling with chopsticks. Funnily enough I prefer to eat with my hands (as I learned from my South Asian friends), but they were at home being Chinese. They didn’t even squirm at the heads left on the friend pigeons. But as they conversed with the waitress in Cantonese, I saw how everything changes when the language barrier disappears.

Language/Education

The opportunity to learn Cantonese properly, is something that every single person I have interviewed has said is is dire need for ethnic minorities. Schools are currently one of two groups, English-medium or Cantonese-medium. But EM children tend to fall behind in Cantonese-medium schools, as their parents are unable to help them properly with schoolwork at home. Those who study in English-medium schools then lack Chinese writing skills, an excuse for many employers to refuse them a job.

Professor John Erni from Lingnan University says that children in Hong Kong also need to be taught about different cultures and religions from a young age, and that it should be a part of the curriculum. And he agrees with Fermi Wong (UNISON) that there is a need for Chinese-as-a-second-language curriculum, that would give ethnic minorities more emphasis on Cantonese.

Legislative councillor Margaret Ng says that the possibility of this happening though, is not looking good. Though she agrees that it would be something beneficial, the government doesn’t want to invest money into this kind of thing.

Racism legislation

In 2008, the Race Discrimination Bill (later the Race Discrimination Ordinance) became the first of it’s kind, as a law protecting people from racism. I had the chance of interviewing Margaret Ng, the Chairlady of the Committee who wrote the Race Discrimination Ordinance. As she said herself, there are many flaws in it, but it is good to get the anti-racism ball rolling in Hong Kong.

The very influential and inspirational lawyer and businessman, Vijay Harilela, says that the major wrong of the ordinance was that it didn’t originally apply to government activities. This meant that the civil service, the police force and the immigration department (among others) were lawfully allowed to discriminate on the grounds of race. But the government eventually followed the UN’s advice and took that clause out.

The ordinance offers no protection against religious discrimination. This is a problem for the Sikhs, many of whom are discriminated for wearing the turban. One man. Kardar Singh, who I met in Khalsa Diwan Gurdwara in Happy Valley told me that his son had been rejected from a school for his head-wear, although his grades were very good. The Christian College, YMCA Tung Chung, has responded by saying that their admission depends on a number of criteria, including conduct, grades and extra-curricular activities, and not on religious persuasion.

Batra Singh, a teacher at the Gurdwara, explained that the narrow-mindedness in Hong Kong is leading many Sikhs to cut their hair and stop wearing a turban.  These are two of the most important symbols in the Sikh Faith, and cutting one’s hair is considered very serious. Many fear the disappearance of their Sikh and Punjabi culture.

True citizens?

The RDO is clear that it has no affect on citizenship, nationality or naturalisation laws. This makes it easy for the immigration to decide who gets a HK passport or not based on their ethnic group. Let’s be clear here. All people born in HK can get a Hong Kong ID. That is what guarantees them to their basic entitlements. But let’s say they want to travel, those who weren’t lucky enough to get a British passport after the handover, have to use the passport of their parents’ countries. And travelling with a HK passport is a million times easier than travelling with an Indian passport, for example.

The Chinese Nationality Law says that to have a HK passport, one must fulfil a number of criteria, though they don’t have to fulfil every single one. But it is still up to the immigration office to decide, depending on their mood it seems, whether someone is eligible. Some criteria, such as having to have Chinese family members, seem ridiculous for a Pakistani family, for example. And why should a person born in HK have to earn a certain amount before they’re considered a proper citizen? Can you imagine that in the UK?

Don’t get me wrong. There are many ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, some who haven’t even been there that long, who have been able to get a HK passport. But some, like Phillip Khan, whose family has been in Hong Kong for 97 years (that’s longer than many Chinese people have even been in HK), is having trouble getting one. Because of this, he is denied his right of standing for legislative election, something he wishes to do. Hong Kong is his country, and he long to feel a ‘part of the family’.

Plain racism

My friend Ramos, who is Nigerian, and his lovely local Chinese wife had their wedding at Central city hall. As beautiful as their love for each other was, the day was dampened by the sour-faced coldness of the minister who married them, and even the girl’s parents. At the moment they kissed, the minister didn’t even try to hide her look of disgust. That certainly wasn’t ignorance. She has seen many mixed couples pass through the city hall, you’d think she’d be used to it by now.

Hong Kong people just don’t want to learn about other cultures. They can’t even be bothered to take time to learn about their Filipina or Indonesian domestic workers, who live with them. Gurcharan Singh agrees. “Chinese people don’t care about anything that is not Chinese”, he says. He expressed his disbelief at his old boss who he worked with for over 10 years before she finally asked him if he was Pakistani or Indian.

Ravi Gidumal says that there are elements within Chinese culture that promote the thinking that Chinese people are superior. The Chinese word for China “Zhong Guo” means the “middle” or “central land”, a term which is China-centric. And terms like “Gwai Lo” used to describe white people have become a part of every language in Hong Kong, despite their derogatory origins. A society that allows this is bound to foster a racist attitude.

Some would argue that Hong Kong has only been independent since 1997, and so hasn’t had the time to adapt to multiculturalism yet. John Erni says HK people went from being third-class citizens under British rule, to being the main group again.

Changing attitudes

Many of the people I interviewed were sure that Hong Kong has changed a lot since the handover. It is getting better they said, mixed race marriages are becoming normal. Gary and Loretta Sharma have been married for 28 years. they say people used to look at them funny on the underground, but now thing are better. “Only the uneducated people are still racist”, says Loretta, a local Chinese lady. Their office in TST is a perfect mix of Indian and Chineseness, as are their children.

Former district councillor Gary Ahuja had a simple philosophy about racial relations in Hong Kong. He says, “if you are nice to people, they are nice to you.” Dialogue is the most important thing to lower barriers between people. Talking to someone in the lift, he explained, is were we start. He thinks organising events that share cultures and get different ethnicities together are the key to tackling racism.

Jeffrey Andrews, a local Indian, agrees. He coaches the Christian Action refugee football team, hailing from Yemen to Somalia, and arranges friendly matches between them and local Chinese teams. He believes football has no language, and so helps form a bond between people regardless of where they’re from. At half time, they talk a bit about where they come from. A step in the right direction.

Gurmel Singh teaches groups of students who visit the Gurdwara about Sikhism and the meaning of the turban and keeping their hair, in the hope that educating people will help HK become more tolerant.

Christian Action football team and local Chinese team

Most of the people I asked said that educating people about other cultures and teaching ethnic minorities Cantonese from a young age are the major hurdles for eradicating racism. But sadly, these seem like the least likely changes to happen in the near future. NGOs like Christian Action are stretching their facilities to try and help EMs out with their Cantonese schoolwork. And with the threat of a national curriculum on the horizon from the mainland, schools with sufficient EM populations, such as Delia Memorial, will struggle to support their students.

Initial thoughts on HK’s ethnic relations

A bus drives by, splashed with intense bursts of colour. The words “Hong Kong: Asia’s World City” written across it’s side in gigantic lettering. Little do tourists know how unlike a world city it can sometimes act. Most people glide in and out of the city, without noticing the ethnic tension that exists there. But for those who stay in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hung Hom or similar areas, the multicultural face of Hong Kong is much clearer…and after a while, so is the tension.

Another day, I was sitting in Starbucks getting my daily dose of caffeine, when I noticed a plaque on the wall saying “We love diversity.” Then I looked around the room at the staff. And I couldn’t think what they meant for the life of me. It certainly couldn’t have been ethnic diversity they meant, because everyone there was Chinese.

Ethnic tensions

Having only been here for 5 days, I have already seen and experienced a number of racist incidents. The ethnic tensions in Hong Kong actually became even more apparent to me this time. Because now even I, as an Asian-looking person with a stark British accent, was beginning to be treated differently by both Chinese and Non-Chinese locals.

In the Indian supermarket, I gathered some paneer and spices in my basket and put them on the counter to pay. Somehow, standing directly in front and in plain sight of the lady behind the counter, I must have been invisible. Because she neither looked at me once, nor acknowledged my existence as she continued to speak in Punjabi another customer. I subtly but politely pushed my basket forward a bit, so that she might notice I was ready to pay.

Then a man pushed straight past me (I must have been invisible to him too), and put his items on the counter. The lady took his money and off he went. And all this time, she happened to be looking everywhere apart from at me. Finally, after every single other person in the shop had paid, she let me. I won’t even mention the part where the other shop lady swore at me in Punjabi, thinking I didn’t understand, because that would be too long-winded.

Documenting discrimination

I will be making a documentary about the dynamics of Hong Kong’s ethnic tensions through the life of HK-born Indian Jeffrey Andrews. Along with the other characters, his journey will explore the inequalities in the education system, job prospects and in prejudice in Hong Kong society in general. This video gives some idea of the kind of discrimination that happens.

Throughout the making of my documentary about racism in HK, I will be literally emptying my mind out into this blog. Watch this space for musings, rants and developments about my project. Anybody with opinions about this topic, please comment.

“HK government treats domestic workers as social benefits”

 

Anyone who has been to Hong Kong should be familiar with the image of crowds of Filipinas and Indonesians filling the streets every Sunday.

But if the controversial abode law is finally passed, this could all change.

Last Wednesday, a second judge ruled to uphold September’s verdict, giving Evangline Vallejos permanent resident status, after 25 years working in Hong Kong.

Domestic Workers have become a fundamental part of most families in Hong Kong, enabling both parents to work, whilst the children and elderly are cared for at home.

But they are currently the only group who do not have the right of abode, while other nationalities can gain it after 7 years.

Aaron Ceradoy from the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrant Workers tells us that it is wrong to manipulate the rights of domestic workers for the benefit of others.

He continues, “The Hong Kong government treats foreign domestic workers as social benefits for the local people.”

The Hong Kong immigration office has reported a surge in the number of applications for permanent residency status in the past month, from 1 per month to 20.

But the human rights lawyer Mark Daly, who represented the Evangeline Vallejos in the controversial abode case last month, doubts the Immigration department’s figures.

16,000 signatures were collected last week in protest of the potential abode law passing, and thousands of protesters marched from Wanchai to the Tamar government site in Central to show their outrage.

A research recently carried out by the Mission for Migrants showed that only 54% of the domestic workers in Hong Kong are eligible for permanent residency.

Abode changes threaten status quo

The proposed changes to the abode law for domestic workers in Hong Kong have not only intensified fears amongst Chinese locals, but also non-Chinese locals. Domestic workers have become embedded in Hong Kong society, as locals who work long hours rely on them to look after children and the elderly. The predominantly Filipino and Indonesian group are not entitled to earn the minimum wage and currently have a near-impossible route to gaining citizenship.

For other ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, making up approximately 5% of the population, this change could mean a negative change in the status quo. Local Indians for example, who came to Hong Kong during British rule, traditionally worked as police. More recently they are bound to jobs in security and delivery driving. If the abode law falls through, Filipinos, with their generally higher level of education, could push other local minorities into the bar and catering sectors, generally dominated by Filipinos. Due to language and cultural differences, it is difficult for non-Chinese locals to succeed in professions other than these.

Hong Kong’s Secret: Tai Long Wan

It’s often said that Hong Kong is lacking in natural beauty, and is often characterized by its dull, polluted skies and towering skyscrapers. However, anyone who says that, has just been too lazy to get up and explore. Sai Kung boasts two country parks, of which on the east-most coast is Tai Long Wan (TLW).

A set of three white-sand beaches; Tai Wan, Ham Tin and Sai Wan. Tai Wan is the hardest to reach, and therefore is the most unspoilt of them all. Sai Wan is the most frequently visited beach of the area. The one we visited was Ham Tin, a 2-hour trek from Pak Tam Au along the Maclehose Trail No.2. There are endless blogs and posts on HKexpat, describing different ways to reach TLW. Here I’ll tell you the way we went.
Our journey began from Hung Hom. Firstly we caught a red public light bus (minibus) to Mong Kok from Ma Tau Wai Rd. Then from Dundas Street in Mong Kok, we caught a red minibus to Sai Kung. Then at Sai Kung after stocking up on water, we took the KMB double-decker No.94 towards Wong Shek Pier. We got off at the 19th stop, Pak Tam Au. If you sit on the top deck, you can follow the stop announcements on a board at the front. When you get off, if you walk about 10m in the direction the bus was going, you should see some toilets and the beginning of Maclehose Trail 2 (clearly signposted).

The trail is clearly marked all the way to Ham Tin beach. Keep an eye out for unusual wildlife on the way, such as lizards, crabs and snakes. There is a stop on the way to get emergency drinks, which are priced at double the normal price. Also, when you reach Ham Tin beach, there will be a simple cafe, with a friendly owner and a bunch of assorted dogs greeting you. Once you cross the rickety bridge made of splitting planks of wood, you’ll finally reach the solace of Ham Tin beach. Enjoy the waves but do be aware of a hidden undercurrent.