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The refugee at our door

We are halfway through 2015 and around the world it is turning into a year of refugees and migrants. Millions of people have been displaced or forced to flee their homes due to war, religious or ethnic conflicts and abject poverty.  But since proximity is a news value; we in Hong Kong are least touched by the stories from afar of the huge humanitarian crises in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, South Sudan and the Central African Republic, or by the stories from Bangladesh or Myanmar. 

The civil war in Syria has driven what the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) calls “the biggest movement of people since World War II”, with over eight million people internally displaced and another four million leaving the country. A majority of nations in Africa are prey to sectarian and ethnic strife and to environmental depredation. An estimated one million migrants are camped on the Gulf and African coast waiting to set off on a life that will hopefully be many times better than what they left behind. 

When Pope Francis addressed the European Parliament for the first time on 25 November 2014, he warned Europe’s leaders to do more to help the thousands of migrants risking their lives trying to get into the continent and raised a caution saying they had to stop the Mediterranean becoming “a vast cemetery.” A few months down the line, the words of the pope have proven to be prophetic: 954 refugees died in the tragedy of April 19, when a boat packed with refugees sank about 100 kilometres off the coast of Libya. 

While the west is grappling with the crisis, the east is not faring any better either. It took 10 days of hard talk for the foreign ministers of Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand to finally come to an agreement that would allow the rescue of thousands of dehydrated and starving Rohingya and Bangladeshis who had left to drift for weeks in the Andaman Sea. Myanmar did not even attend the meeting in Bangkok on May 29 aimed at solving a crisis that is largely of its own making.

There is a growing sense of intolerance and lack of acceptance among the people. Can the people of Hong Kong wash their hands of this and say they are not faced with this crisis at the moment? In fact, Hong Kong is already displaying its intolerance towards the asylum seekers. The recent story that surfaced about Siu Yau-wai, a 12-year-old boy from the mainland China who lived in Hong Kong for nine years without documentation, is the latest example. 

Although the Immigration Department granted him a temporary permit to stay in the territory, some people protested, shouting slogans like “return to the mainland” outside the Confucian Tai Shing Primary School, whose principal had voiced interest in offering the boy a place at the school if authorities allowed it. 

The case of Yau-wai is a tragic one. He was abandoned by his parents when he was still an infant. Yet in the new land where he began his first lessons, he learns to be scared of his surroundings and to live in fear of being arrested day after day. And when finally he turns himself in, he is rejected by the people of the land. With the hurt of rejection he finally decided to leave Hong Kong. Even more tragic are the few so-called localist groups who celebrated Yau-wai’s return to the mainland. 


Are we sure that we are the rightful owners of the land and households we posses? If we are then so many of our elderly would not be spending their days in the confines of the old age homes; perhaps they too possessed wealth and property once upon a time. In spite of all our possessions, there will be a time when it is our turn to be asylum seekers. Cherukara cmf