CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Refugees are our neighbours

HONG KONG (SE): A campaign to support refugees and torture claimants in Hong Kong organised by the ad hoc committee of the Jubilee of Mercy and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is underway.

An information afternoon was held at the Diocese Centre on May 21 in which the president of the ad hoc committee of the Jubilee of Mercy, Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing, stated that taking care of our neighbours is what Christians should do.

Bishop Ha explained that while this attitude may not be understood by the majority of the society, it is a principle that the Church believes in, as pointed out by Pope Francis in his message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees in January this year.

The auxiliary bishop of Hong Kong said the bible contains recorded history about migrants, as well as refugees, and what we learn from that history is how we can live in peace with others, especially those who are different from ourselves.

He said that in facing the refugee issue, the Church has to preach more often and forcefully about its principles, so as to influence others and invite more participation from all members of society.

Sister Renata Anselms, from the Contemplative Missionary Fraternity, said her sisters have been helping more and more refugees in recent times. She added that a big challenge is to give them encouragement.

Whenever refugees tell her that they have met a roadblock in life, she said that she passes their requests on to other people to see if they are able to help.

She also invited a torture clamant from Africa to share something of her experience during the afternoon.

A single mother, the young woman said that she had no choice but to leave home and try to find a safe place for her family to live.

She finally arrived in Hong Kong in 2014.

She has a 12-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter. The main difficulty living in Hong Kong poses for her is the language problem, which she said makes it extremely difficult for her to integrate into the society.

She thanked the Church communities for their help and said that she hopes she can be treated with equality by others.

Maurice Yeung Kwok-leung, from the St. Vincent de Paul, spoke of the work the society is doing in offering assistance and services to refugees and asylum seekers.

He explained that the number of families served by the society has increased from 10 staying in Yuen Long when the project started in 2002, to around 110 today. They are scattered over Yuen Long, Sham Shui Po and To Kwa Wan.

The society offers free meals, but also seeks to raise people’s spirits by organising carnivals, sightseeing trips and other activities to promote social interaction among them and introduce them to various aspects of life in Hong Kong.

Yeung said he hopes that more people will join their activities and that the government will come good on its promise to speed up the processing of their applications for asylum, so that they can start their lives anew as soon as possible.

Pao Yin-yan, from the United Nations Refugee Agency, explained that the world is facing a serious refugee dilemma, as every minute eight people on average are forced to leave their homes.

She said it is hard to judge the validity of many asylum claims, as there are still difficult situations in remote places of many countries, which otherwise have a seemingly stable political environment.

A volunteer in a refugee service said that the Hong Kong government does not give enough support to torture claimants. For example, it helps their children to find a school, but does not subsidise their books and miscellaneous fees.

He emphasised that people cannot assume that torture claimants have abused the system in Hong Kong simply because they are in the city.

Although the suggestion has been made several times that Hong Kong should withdraw as a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Torture (to which China is a signatory), the St. Vincent de Paul man said he believes that if it did, Hong Kong people would also suffer, as they would no longer be protected by the convention.

As a follow up from the afternoon, St. Vincent de Paul is organising home visits in Yuen Long and To Kwa Wan on June 25, for people to learn more about the concrete situation of torture claimants and refugees.

Yeung emphasised during his talk that Frederic Ozanam, the founder of the society, said home visitation must to be included in all charitable services, in order to establish the extent and nature of people’s real needs.

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