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

 

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.

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.

A disappointing debate: LegCo discusses the USM

Published on . Posted in Blog, Illegal immigrant, LEGCO, Refugee, USM

Posted by Rachel Li

Watch the webcast of the LegCo Panel on Security Meeting here

Watch the webcast of the LegCo Panel on Security Meeting here

Last week, I accompanied my colleagues and several refugees to observe the Legislative Council’s (“LegCo”) Panel on Security meeting. The session was to discuss the Hong Kong Government’s comprehensive review of the strategy of handling non-refoulement claims, including the Unified Screening Mechanism (the government’s screening process for asylum claims, or the “USM”). A comprehensive review of the existing system surely is a good thing. However, the Government’s review actually places a lot of emphasis on the removal – rather than the protection – of refugees in Hong Kong. In response to this, Justice Centre has circulated an informal briefing to selected members of LegCo detailing our concerns.

As we walked towards the LegCo complex to attend the session, we warned the refugee observers with us that we did not expect the meeting to be a pleasant one: harsh and vacuous words might be thrown around, and the atmosphere might be hostile. We had good reason to believe this; ever since last June, when the government started displaying a keen interest in people seeking protection in Hong Kong, the political discourse surrounding the issue has largely been negative and misdirected.

Read our full briefing provided to select LegCo members on our website

Read our full briefing provided to select LegCo members on our website

As we tried to enter the building itself we were informed that the ‘Recognizance Paper’, which is the only form of official ID a refugee has in Hong Kong, is not considered an acceptable identification document for visitors. This was unusual as protection claimants have accompanied us to LegCo on numerous occasions to observe sessions, tour the complex, meet with LegCo members and even to present at a Panel on Security session. It took 30 minutes to resolve this and obtain permission for the refugees to enter.

This in itself was worrying; the ability to observe and participate in meetings at LegCo are an important part of our socio-political rights. In other words, LegCo should be accessible to everyone, and this includes people who are seeking protection in Hong Kong. Therefore, it is extremely concerning (and ironic) that they were very nearly prevented from observing an important discussion on their own rights and status.

The actual session was very disappointing. A total of 30 minutes were allocated to discuss this important issue that will have a profound impact on people seeking protection in Hong Kong. Throughout the meeting, legislators reiterated the government’s rhetoric that refugees are a nuisance to public order and security. Legislators and government officials discussed withdrawing from the Convention against Torture (that protects not just refugees but also people in Hong Kong), setting up detention camps and removing “fake refugees” speedily in a worryingly callous manner. There was barely any discussion that actually focused on ‘protection’. At no point was there a mention of the implementation of the Committee against Torture’s recent recommendations to Hong Kong.

I felt uncomfortable with the xenophobic undercurrent that underpinned the discussion; the use of labels such as “black criminals” or “Southeast Asian illegal immigrants” is insensitive and unnecessary – especially considering that Hong Kong is home to people of many ethnicities. What saddens me on a very personal level is that people seeking protection in Hong Kong are not treated as human beings with rights. Rather, they are seen as a problem, a pest, a nuisance. According to the government, asylum seekers are “illegal immigrants”, “overstayers”, “refused landing passengers”, “economic migrants”, “abusers”, “criminals” and “fake refugees”;

But we must be reminded that they are not just faceless figures. These are ordinary people who just happen to be in extraordinary circumstances; they are student activists who told me if the Umbrella Movement had happened in their countries, it would have been so effective that they would have been given their rights in a day; they are keen learners who told me they were taking Cantonese classes or that they would like to pursue another degree in University; They were once my grandparents, who fled China during the Sino-Japanese war.

We need more humanity in the discussion. This is especially so given that the world today is grappling with the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II. To quote my colleague Victoria, “It’s high time we understand that refugee rights are about human rights, and if we erode refugee protection in Hong Kong, we are only shrinking the human rights space here”.

IMG_20150627_112320    Rachel Li is the Policy Intern at Justice Centre Hong Kong.

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.

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