Nadia Murad

Published on . Posted in Asylum seeker, Blog, Refugee

In honour of World Refugee Day 2016, we present an original poem by Saleban (name changed), a refugee from an African country and a graduate of our Voices for Protection advocacy traineeship. Saleban pays tribute to Nadia Murad, a Yazidi refugee, rights activist and 2016 Nobel Peace Prize nominee. Through this poem, he seeks to highlight the struggle for survival of cultural and religious minorities around the world, and especially women, who often bear the brunt of war and hardship.

From Sinjar to Mosul.

From Mosul to Baghdad.

SHE was the one

Who had the guts

To expose the nuts;

The ISIS thugs; twenty first century’s shame.

That’s why, with her

GLORY’s got another name:

NADIA MURAD

 

From Sinjar to Mosul.

From Mosul to Baghdad.

It was SHE

Who freed us all

When she began to tell;

Who sent the stains

[That kill, rape and maim]

Into deserved hell

of degrading shame.

And who around

The beast’s neck

Hung a bell.

That’s why, with her

Honour, as well

Has got another name:

NADIA MURAD

 

When SHE pointed out

Her finger at

The lowest outlaws,

Raising up the call,

She dug a hole in the silence wall.

She cut the sword with a rose.

Long-living women’s cause.

Making the raped

Victorious of all.

 

SHE put her shoes

On her rapist’s head.

It was SHE who won

In the end.

The one to send

Her and our foes

Into deserved hell.

The one to dwell

In a heaven of a peaceful soul.

That’s why,

No one to let down

Or to sell:

NADIA MURAD

 

How many Nadia Murads, as victims

Do we have around the world?

How many Nadia Murads, as fighters

Do we have around the world?

What should be done for CHANGE?

If we, the World, look

into our eyes in the mirror,

Take action,

And give the proper answers.

Then we will be the VICTOR.

That’s why, GLORY

And HONOUR,

As the same,

Have got a joint name:

NADIA MURAD

 

Interpretation: Enabling Access to Justice

Published on . Posted in Asylum seeker, Blog, Fundraising, Information Sessions, Interpretation, Legal aid, USM

Posted by Ellen Pucke

A caseworker working with one of our service users

To me, being a social worker means prioritising the well-being and rights of those that are most vulnerable, in everything you do. In my role as Office Manager at Justice Centre, I have the opportunity to do that every day when making decisions about our operations, logistics, security, and policies. I balance the needs of our service users with those of the staff to ensure we are able to serve our community to the best of our availability. One of the most important ways we are able to prioritise the needs of our service users is by providing them access to interpreters for all appointments and information sessions at Justice Centre.

Interpretation is essential because our service users are survivors of war, persecution, and torture that have found themselves in a country and culture foreign to them; a country which does offer a mechanism for seeking protection – but in a language that may, in effect, make it inaccessible.

Many of our service users have some degree of proficiency with English or Cantonese, either because they learned it in their country of origin, or have dedicated extensive time to studying and practicing these languages once they arrived in Hong Kong. A moderate level of English or Cantonese certainly helps someone navigate Hong Kong’s systems, but when it comes to communicating about something traumatic and so critical to your future – could you express yourself completely and accurately in anything but your native tongue? Would you be able to comprehend legal jargon or describe distressing experiences in a second language?

More than 30 interpreters offer their talent and time to interpret for our clients on an ad hoc basis, in over 22 languages. Because of them we are able to provide our service users with support – allowing them to better understand their rights in Hong Kong, the process of applying for protection, and what the status of their case is; empowering our service users to work collaboratively with our caseworkers to prepare their testimony and legal documentation in an accurate way; and enabling them to work through traumatic experiences and acute mental health concerns with the guidance of a psychosocial counsellor.

Interpretation is absolutely critical for ensuring our service users have the best possible chance of accessing justice. One interpreter described her role as the “bridge between the caseworker and the protection claimant”. She said, “It bothers me when people cannot communicate as they are already in a desperate situation when they come here. Without interpretation, legal support would be impossible”.

I love working with our interpreters for many of the same reasons I love working with our service users – they’re from all over the world, they often know three or four different languages, they come from diverse professional backgrounds, they are eager to learn about the legal process and our advocacy work to improve the experience of people seeking protection in Hong Kong, and they are enthusiastic about holding on to their native languages and using it to help others. Many of our interpreters grew up in households in Hong Kong or abroad where they learned one or more language that is not commonly found here – such as Pashtu, Swahili, or Somali. They tell me they enjoy interpreting these languages at Justice Centre because it’s a way for them to stay connected to their roots. When I am privileged to facilitate that connection between an interpreter and a service user, it often reminds me of the strength found in Hong Kong’s diversity.

My heart is full each time a service user meets an interpreter of their native language at our centre; the sense of relief and hope is palpable. I would hope that interpretation services are prioritised and adequately resourced going forward within Hong Kong’s current protection system, in order to facilitate a smoother and fairer system for people seeking protection here. The value of this cannot be underestimated.

Please consider making a donation today: just HK$ 500 enables us to provide legal and psychosocial support to a protection claimant with the assistance of an interpreter. 

At the moment we are in need of interpreters for Amharic, Arabic, Bangla, Somali, and Tigrinya languages.  If you are interested please get in touch with Ellen at ellen@justicecentre.org.hk for more details.

1416593Ellen Pucke is the Office Manager at Justice Centre Hong Kong. She is also a Hong Kong-registered social worker.

The People behind the Headlines

Published on . Posted in Asylum seeker, Blog, LEGCO, Refugee, Uncategorized, USM

Posted by A. Ma

Refugees have recently made the headlines in Hong Kong’s local newspapers. I work as a caseworker in Justice Centre’s Protection Claimant Services team to help people navigate the Unified Screening Mechanism (or the USM, the government’s screening process for protection). This role has enabled me to see these recent reports by the government and media from the perspective of the people to whom it matters the most – the refugees.

While a majority of this attention has heavily focused on how to reduce the amount of existing refugees, not many people have actually thought about how the refugees themselves feel about these recent developments. Not many know what it is like for them to grapple with the difficult choices they’ve had to make; the loved ones they might have had to leave behind, and what it is like for them to feel “identity-less”.

Refugee issues were certainly not a topic that might have been frequently debated a few years ago. Even just a few months ago, most of the HongKongers I spoke with were not aware of the existence of refugees. Today, people in Hong Kong are starting to gain interest in refugees; perhaps public awareness has been raised due to a variety of recent governmental debates and media interest on how to settle or treat them. Unfortunately, most of the coverage has been negative. Read our op-ed this week for more on this matter in both Ming Pao (Chinese) and Hong Kong Free Press (English).

quote jpbThe refugees I help have come up to me expressing their concerns regarding the hostility they have been feeling as a result of these reports. We have been receiving more enquiries from protection claimants (refugees with a protection claim under the USM) who struggle to understand the numerous new measures announced in the media, such as plans to speed up the USM or the Chief Executive’s comments on Hong Kong possibly withdrawing from the Convention against Torture. They are confused about what criteria will be required to accept their USM claim. While they welcome changes that might speed up processing times, they worry if these may be implemented at the cost of fairness.

Many protection claimants therefore have the bitter impression that Hong Kong is doing everything possible to get rid of them, and are distressed about potentially receiving a negative decision. It is not difficult to see where they get these impressions from, particularly considering the recent trends we have been seeing in the rejected claims for protection. For instance, the UNHCR has advised governments not to forcibly return people to certain countries which are considered to be countries of concern because of how unsafe they are. But despite this, Hong Kong has been rejecting protection claims from countries such as Central African Republic – even though it’s downright dangerous for refugees to return there.

The constant reports on “bogus refugees” in the Hong Kong media are really having an impact on the morale of the protection claimants that I work with, who feel that they are discredited right from the beginning, giving them absolutely no hope of succeeding at all. They came to Hong Kong to try to escape the horror they had been living through. But while they may be safe from physical danger here, they constantly fear that they are at risk of being returned to the danger in their countries. You simply cannot underestimate the negative impact this has on the mental health of people who are already vulnerable. Many refugees have told me that in Hong Kong they live, but they have no life.

More and more protection claimants are asking us if the Hong Kong Government is intending to stop accepting all refugees. This may or may not be the government’s intention, but it seems understandable that so many of them feel abandoned and let down.

As a caseworker, you do the best you can, but there’s only so much you can do to help claimants have faith in a protection system that feels like it’s working against them. It is reasonable that the Hong Kong Government has a duty to safeguard the interests of Hong Kong, but this does not have to be done at the expense of those seeking protection here.

Next week, on February 2, the Legislative Council will be presenting a comprehensive review of the government’s strategy of handling protection claims, which you can watch live on the Legislative Council website.

A. Ma volunteers as a Protection Claims Caseworker at Justice Centre Hong Kong.

Corporates and Non-Profits: Working Together

Published on . Posted in Advocacy, Asylum seeker, Blog, Fundraising, Human Trafficking, Refugee

Posted by Melanie McLaren

When people hear about the work of Justice Centre they always ask, “What can I do to help?”. It’s a question that I asked myself. Consequently, last September marked a significant change for me; I took a sabbatical from a successful nine-year career in the financial sector to become Justice Centre’s Fundraising Manager.

I first came to know about Justice Centre through my company which had supported one of Justice Centre’s projects. I was particularly struck by the dual-pronged approach the organisation takes in providing frontline services as well as advocating for better legislation and policies and I found myself wondering how I could use my unique skills to help; I now focus particularly on raising awareness of Justice Centre more widely amongst the corporate sector in Hong Kong.

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One of our corporate partners delivering a public speaking workshop for Voices for Protection

The move was definitely a significant change: no more free breakfasts, no easy access to state-of-the-art technology and facilities, no person to take over my administrative work – the perks many take for granted in the corporate sector. Yet, I found the shift from the corporate to the non-profit sector to be extremely smooth, largely due to the professionalism, patience and enthusiasm of everyone I encountered.

Something that struck me particularly in my first few weeks at Justice Centre was the sheer breadth of stakeholders in the refugee and anti-human trafficking space. It clearly demonstrates that when it comes to advocating for human rights, everyone can and should play a role. My days have involved meeting people from a wide range of organisations and backgrounds, from consulate diplomats in Hong Kong, to accountants working on a financial solution to human trafficking issues, to talented local artists who have created work to raise awareness of human rights in Hong Kong.

Like many of these people, before I came across Justice Centre, I had very little knowledge of the political and humanitarian situation facing refugees here, or even that there was a significant refugee population within Hong Kong. However, so far I have seen that once people come to appreciate the current position refugees and victims of human trafficking face in Hong Kong, they have been extremely enthusiastic to get involved, whether through a formal corporate partnership, individual volunteering, engaging in fundraising activities or even simply attending our events.

Justice Centre is extremely fortunate to have wonderful support from a core group of partners who assist us in our work through our pro-bono partnership programme. With training and mentorship from our team of seasoned human rights lawyers, these partners generously provide their time and legal expertise, as well as other resources, and gain rewarding, hands-on experience assisting our beneficiaries.

Further to the legal work, our partners have engaged in a range of other activities with us, from hosting capacity-building workshops for refugees to build their skills through Voices for Protection, to company-wide fundraising drives such as auctions or bake sales, to individual fundraising activities. Justice Centre and our NGO partner Free to Run organise refugee hiking and running groups, and a group of volunteers from one of our corporate partners trained weekly with some of our refugee beneficiaries ahead of participating in a 10 kilometre race together in November 2015 to raise funds for both organisations.

It has been wonderful to see how involved and passionate the individuals within these firms are to contribute in any way they can, and we look forward to building on our existing platform and network with other businesses and people from the corporate sector.

Moving to the non-profit sector has shown me that advocating for forced migrants’ rights in Hong Kong is a responsibility we all share, and one that requires collaboration across sectors. If you or your company are interested in partnering with us, fundraising for us or supporting our programmes or activities, I urge you to get in touch to explore the possibilities.

We are currently recruiting for a part-time volunteer Development Associate with a background in PR/fundraising/business development to join our Fundraising and Development team. Find out more on our website

 

Work PhotoMelanie is the Fundraising Manager at Justice Centre.

 

Reviewing Hong Kong’s Human Trafficking Case

Published on . Posted in Asylum seeker, Blog, Court Case, Human Trafficking, Refugee, Slavery

Posted by Adam Severson

If Chief Executive Leung’s recent remark that HKSAR could “quit” the Convention against Torture was meant as a joke, he isn’t getting many laughs. Least of all because his timing is off – just over a month ago the Committee against Torture (CAT) released its concluding observations from its fifth periodic review of the HKSAR territory. CAT raised concerns that include: the use of excessive force by police, a “distinctly high threshold for granting protection” under the Unified Screening Mechanism, and the absence of a legislative framework for combatting human trafficking and forced labour. None of which is the least bit amusing. Call me humourless.

CAT’s concerns about human trafficking and forced labour in the HKSAR territory are of particular relevance this week as the Hong Kong High Court considers a landmark human trafficking case. The question before the court is whether the Hong Kong Government has an obligation to create laws to protect people from human trafficking, including for the purpose of forced labour. I observed the proceedings on Wednesday.

The victim, ZN (whose identity has been protected), came to Hong Kong in 2007 on a domestic worker visa. But he claims that the life he found in Hong Kong was not as promised. ZN alleges that his employer was verbally and physically abusive towards him, made ZN work long hours, withheld his wages, and confiscated ZN’s passport so he could not leave. He claims this went on for nearly four years, and that he sought assistance from the Hong Kong Police, the Immigration Department and the Labour Department, but that nothing was done.

ZN argues that the Hong Kong Government failed to protect his right to freedom from servitude and forced labour pursuant to Article 4 of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance (HKBORO). He claims that the Hong Kong Government failed, in part, because its domestic legal framework does not prohibit human trafficking, including for the purpose of forced labour. There is much anticipation around this landmark judicial review, as it may determine whether the government has an obligation to create such a framework.

We agree human trafficking is an egregious violation of fundamental freedoms. So this case should be simple, right? Unfortunately it isn’t. The issue is that Article 4 does not explicitly mention human trafficking; rather it prohibits slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour. Check out our joint 2014 report with Liberty Asia, How Many More Years A Slave? to better understand these complex terms.

ZN’s lawyers argue that the High Court should follow the example of the European Court of Human Rights. In Rantsev v. Cyprus and Russia, the court interpreted Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights – a provision very similar to HKBORO Article 4 – to include a prohibition on human trafficking. The Hong Kong Government disagrees, arguing that the High Court should read Article 4 as written – without any mention of human trafficking. And it buttresses its argument by pointing out that, unlike most European states, the HKSAR territory is not bound by the UN Trafficking (“Palermo”) Protocol, which creates robust protections for human trafficking in all of its forms.

It is tough to discern which direction the High Court is leaning, but hopes are high that the court will find that the Hong Kong Government has an obligation under HKBORO Article 4 to create a legal framework to combat human trafficking.

In the meantime, I hope Chief Executive Leung lays off the careless comments and instead focuses on implementing the Committee against Torture’s recommendations.

20151214_124030Adam is the Senior Legal Advisor at Justice Centre Hong Kong

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