Rock for Justice

Published on . Posted in Uncategorized

JUSTICE-01-01 (2)To celebrate World Refugee Day on 20 June, we are proud to present Rock for Justice, a live music event, kindly hosted by Orange Peel and generously co-sponsored by Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Lexis Nexis and Macquarie.

This promises to be a fun evening, with headline acts Sakofa Drummers, ShumKing Mansion, Dowa Towa and Miss Cathy & the Sideburns. There will be a Lucky Draw with some great prizes too.

Date and Time: 6:00pm to 11:30pm on Monday 20 June

Venue: Orange Peel, 2/F, 38-44 D’Aguilar Street, Central.

Tickets: $300 in advance / $350 on the door.

Ticket price includes one glass of wine. All funds raised will support our work.

This event is supported by Purple 9 Wine, Sennheiser, Sideways and The Underground.

 

The amazing refugee women of Hong Kong

Published on . Posted in Advocacy, Blog, Refugee, Uncategorized, Voices For Protection

Let me ask you, can you imagine living a life away from your home, in a situation where you had to leave your loved ones behind and seek asylum in Hong Kong?

The participants have been learning about famous women leaders and activists.

The first time I heard about Justice Centre Hong Kong was when I was doing my university assignment on asylum seekers and refugees in Hong Kong. Thinking about refugees, many questions came to mind: “Are they socially excluded in Hong Kong?” And if yes, “What can be done from the micro to macro level to make them a part of Hong Kong society?”

As a student social worker at Justice Centre, I have learned the answer to some of these questions. I have become particularly aware of the plight of women refugees in Hong Kong. Over the past few months, I have been involved with Voices for Protection, Justice Centre´s advocacy and human rights training programme for refugees. The intake that I have been a part of was a special intake just for women supported by HER Fund.

This week, on the occasion of International Women´s Day, we organised a special training for all women who have graduated from Voices for Protection across the four intakes. This was a leadership programme run by the leadership development consultancy Bridge. A large number of the participants were aware that it was in fact International Women´s day and were very excited to celebrate the day and themselves by taking part in this leadership programme.

To me, Voices for Protection is about self-transformation, capacity building, and social change. It gives women a platform to reflect their needs and strengths. In the different sessions, women have voiced their needs and wishes to contribute to the labour market and boost Hong Kong’s economy rather than just relying on the government’s support; they have expressed their wish for a fair and fast USM system; and they are eager to learn more about their rights.

It has been moving to see how some of the group members showed tremendous progress and change throughout their participation in the programme over the course of the past 12 weeks. Some of the participants had previously never been outside of their homes by themselves, but nevertheless came and took part in every session. They learned to read the MTR map to find the way on their own, and they gained the confidence to speak in front of the other participants at the sessions.

Building rapport and trusting relationships is quite vital in a social work setting. As a student social worker observing the different sessions, I could see how the group started forming and how the group dynamic changed as the programme progressed. I can still remember how anxious the women were to stand up and introduce themselves in the first few sessions; gradually they began opening up, and trust was built up among the women and the facilitators.

18 women refugees took part in the International Women´s Day Leadership Programme, led by Bridge

18 women took part in the International Women´s Day Leadership Programme.

Towards the end of this intake of Voices for Protection, we organised a field trip for all the women to meet with LegCo member Emily Lau at the Legislative Council. The visit proved to be an empowering moment for the women, and they all made an effort to prepare and speak up for their rights. This would not have been possible if the women did not have trust in themselves, the other participants or the staff and volunteers from Justice Centre. I was very touched when one of the participants asked me to read her script to make sure it was well-written, or when another woman rehearsed her speech in front of me. The women were exemplary representatives and advocates, and I am sure this must have been heard well by LegCo member Emily Lau.

The Voices for Protection traineeship is the first step towards changing the lives of asylum seekers and refugees in Hong Kong from an individual to a societal level. On International Women´s Day this year, the women graduates proved just how big of a difference the traineeship can make to them, both as individuals and as advocates for their own rights. The graduates were stronger, happier and more empowered than I have ever seen them before. I am proud to have had the opportunity to take part in this important programme, and to contribute to making a difference in the lives of refugee women in Hong Kong.

AnjuAnju Ghising is a second year Social Work student at the University of Hong Kong (HKU). She is a student social worker at Justice Centre through HKU’s Social Work Fieldwork Placement Programme.

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.

Abandoned in despair, rescued with hope

Published on . Posted in Asylum seeker, Blog, Families, Illegal immigrant, Refugee, Uncategorized

by Zamira Monteiro

I came back to work this week with a heavy heart; fresh off the plane, leaving behind family, friends, parties and good food that I sorely miss in my home country, Bahrain. Every time I return from home, getting back into the way of life in Hong Kong is always a bit difficult, and I am usually reminded of how scary it was when I first arrived here as an overseas university student, having to learn everything you need to know when you move to a new country.

How much more terrifying must it have been for the hundreds of asylum seekers, abandoned by smugglers on New Year’s Eve in a “ghost ship” off the coast of Southern Italy – the third such event to occur within a two week period. With the warmth and love of my own home and family still wrapped around me, it is hard to imagine what it must feel like for these men, women and children to arrive in a strange country in the middle of winter, not knowing the language, sick with injuries, frostbite, hypothermia, exhaustion and terror – an ordeal which has been endured for the simple right to live in peace, free from harm.

Ocean Tanker

Photo Credit, David Niblack, Imagebase.net

What could have been a hopeless and devastating situation, however, was turned around by the response of the local community in the Southern Italian Salento region who scrapped their New Year’s parties when word spread about the new arrivals, and asked what they could do to help. Religious institutions opened their doors for shelter; donations poured in; people arrived with home-cooked food. Inspirational doesn’t quite cover it. I am floored by the reaction of a community that isn’t even the richest in Italy, who opened their hearts and arms without question, despite the obvious difficulties in accommodating a sudden influx of hundreds of people, including figuring out logistics such as shelter, medical care and paperwork, among other things.

Many of the refugees are now on trains, trying to reach relatives elsewhere in Europe. The quick thinking and warm welcome that they were met with has enabled them to move on in their journeys, begin the process of claiming asylum, come to terms with their traumatic experiences and discover the rest of their lives. It goes without saying that the road ahead will not be easy and, though one can hope, they will not always be met with such generosity and kindness.

I began the week with a heavy heart, but I realise that I am lucky as I have met so many wonderful people along the way who have made Hong Kong a warm and welcoming place for me. Reading this story gives me so much hope; it is so wonderful that these refugees were met by friends who extended their love and compassion to them.

Paying smugglers whatever they had to board that ship signifies the heart-breaking desperation of these refugees to escape a world of fear and despair, and it could have been met – as it so often is – with reactions of hostility and incomprehension. But the people of Salento chose kindness and, with that, a voyage that could have had a bad ending was instead the start of a new journey. I can only hope that the refugees who make it to our shores in Hong Kong will experience a similar welcome in their search for safety and a life free from harm.

How many more years a slave?

Published on . Posted in Asylum seeker, Blog, Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize, Human Trafficking, Illegal immigrant, Refugee, Slavery, Uncategorized

Posted by Aleta Miller

Next Wednesday, Human Rights Day, Justice Centre hosts the Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize, our annual event to harness the power of the visual arts to promote awareness, provoke dialogue, inspire action and ultimately, bring about change in the area of human rights.

Stefan Irvine - Human Exports

Stefan Irvine, Human Exports, shortlisted for the Human Rights Arts Prize 2014

This year, we invited Hong Kong-based artists to submit works on the theme of modern slavery and human trafficking. Over 40 entries flooded in from artists originating from countries as diverse as the Philippines, UK, Australia, USA, Cameroon, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, South Africa and India, exploring issues such as the exploitation of domestic workers, the global sex trade, the fashion industry, cocoa production and Japanese ‘Comfort Women’. You can see and pre-bid for the shortlisted artworks here.

So why choose modern slavery and human trafficking as the theme? Because it is on our doorstep and not enough is being done to combat it. As an important regional hub and both a destination and transit territory for human trafficking, Hong Kong is currently failing to comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. Through the Arts Prize, we want to explore this difficult issue, challenge assumptions, elicit emotion and galvanise change. The response from the artists and from the public who have viewed their work so far has confirmed the theme’s significance.

Modern slavery has been high on my agenda these past few weeks. I recently had the privilege of attending the annual Trust Women Conference in London through its scholarship programme. There, I heard stories of trauma, courage, frustration and hope directly from human trafficking survivors. It was inspiring to meet people from all over the world who work to end human trafficking; I certainly learned a lot and came back armed with the understanding of a number of programmes and practices that could be applied in Hong Kong.

That same week, The Walk Free Foundation produced its second annual edition of the Global Slavery Index, where Hong Kong’s human trafficking record was once again put squarely in the spotlight. The Index reports that there are an estimated 35.8 people living in modern slavery worldwide – 13,400 of them purportedly in Hong Kong. Yet, the Hong Kong Government appears to be in denial.

Along with Kuwait, Qatar, Singapore and Brunei, the report shames Hong Kong as one of five governments in the world that should be doing more on human trafficking, given their wealth. Hong Kong is identified as a place where undocumented workers often face different forms of exploitation, and where the government has had a particularly poor response to modern slavery.

Marc Standing, Seeker, shortlisted for the Human Rights Arts Prize 2014

This sentiment has been echoed in the recommendations recently issued by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in its first review of Hong Kong since 2006. The Committee calls on the Hong Kong Government to intensify its efforts to address the root causes of trafficking in women and girls and offer them more assistance. The government is also urged to extend the UN Trafficking Protocol to Hong Kong and to adopt comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation. The report also recognised the need for a comprehensive study to collect data on the extent and forms of human trafficking, which is currently lacking in efforts to address the issue.

Lack of data is at the crux of the problem here. The true situation of human trafficking in Hong Kong is largely unknown, because it is not being adequately monitored, investigated or prosecuted. Data is crucial for evidenced-based advocacy and it is with this in mind that Justice Centre is undertaking a research project to determine the prevalence and nature of human trafficking and modern slavery amongst three vulnerable groups in Hong Kong – migrant sex workers, foreign domestic workers and asylum seekers and refugees.

In the words of the Founder of Walk Free Foundation, Andrew Forrest, “The first step in eradicating slavery is to measure it. And with that critical information, we must all come together — governments, businesses and civil society — to finally bring an end to the most severe form of exploitation.”

The Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize will be held on Wednesday, December 10, from 7-10pm at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery, 57-59 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong. For more information, to view the work and place a pre-bid, please click here.

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