Human Rights Week 2015!

Published on . Posted in Advocacy, Asylum seeker, Blog, Fundraising, Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize, Refugee

Posted by Adela Kamaragoda

The Justice Centre team is proud to bring to you Human Rights Week 2015 in the run up to International Human Rights Day (December 10)! Human Rights Week aims to provide a platform for the public to celebrate and learn about human rights through the arts, talks and activities for the whole family.

The Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize is a key part of Human Rights Week. Established in 2013 and organised by Justice Centre, the Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize aims to harness the power of the visual arts to promote awareness, provoke dialogue, inspire action and bring about change in the area of human rights.

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P H, Yang, What Next for Hong Kong – one of the shortlisted artworks

Previous winners have included Filipino photographer Xyza Cruz Bacani, who has just been named one of BBC’s 100 Women of 2015, and Katie Vajda, for her series on domestic workers in Hong Kong.

This year, we had the largest number of entries we’ve ever had – over 100 – from which nineteen artworks have been shortlisted for the Prize by a panel of prominent art experts and human rights specialists. The shortlist features works in a variety of media from both Hong Kong-born artists and those originating from countries as diverse as Belgium, Spain, Canada and Mainland China.

A wide range of themes runs through the artworks, including last year’s Occupy movement, homelessness, the plight of refugees, forced labour, ethnic minorities, LGBT rights, among other human rights and social justice issues.

You can view the Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize Exhibition during Human Rights Week at The Fringe Club, December 4-10, from 10am – 10pm (closed Sunday). The exhibition is free and culminates in an awards ceremony and charity auction at an invite-only event on International Human Rights Day, December 10. Preview the exhibition, as well as pre-bid for your favourite pieces online at www.justicecentre.org.hk/artsprizegallery.

We look forward to celebrating Human Rights Week with you! Check out the line-up of events for the week below and RSVP by emailing info@justicecentre.org.hk or calling 3109 7359 stating which event you would like to attend. See you there!

Human Rights Week Talks and Activities

All talks and activities will take place at The Fringe Club, 2 Lower Albert Road, Central.

Children’s activity morning: Refugees, You and Me

A fun-filled morning for children to learn about refugees in Hong Kong through art, story-telling and games. Suitable for children aged 3-10 and their parents.

Date: Saturday December 5, 10:30am-12noon

Admission: HK$100 suggested donation per child.

Each child MUST be accompanied by an adult. Limited places. RSVP essential.

Talk: Refugee Rights in Hong Kong (in English)

Learn more about refugees in Hong Kong

Dates: Tuesday December 8, 7-8pm and Wednesday December 9, 1-2pm

Admission: Free

Talk: Refugee Rights in Hong Kong (in Cantonese)

Learn more about refugees in Hong Kong

Date: Wednesday December 9, 3-4pm

Admission: Free

Talk by Visual Artist and Activist, Kacey Wong:  Art and Human Rights

Learn about how Kacey Wong uses his art as social activism.

Kacey Wong is an educator and an active contemporary visual artist in Hong Kong. He is well known for using his art as social activism and created public engagement art projects in the Occupied Zone during the Umbrella Movement.

Date: Wednesday December 97-8pm

Admission: Free

Talk: Human trafficking and forced labour in Hong Kong (in English)

Learn about human trafficking and forced labour as it relates to migrant domestic workers (helpers) in Hong Kong.

Date: Thursday December 10, 1-2pm

Admission: Free

School visits

We are happy to organise group visits for schools to view the Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize Exhibition. If you would like to arrange a school visit, please contact us at info@justicecentre.org.hk. Please note the exhibition is suitable for Years 6 and upwards, at the discretion of the school/teachers.

 

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Adela Kamaragoda is the Fundraising and Development Officer at Justice Centre Hong Kong

Running to Heal

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

Posted by Virginie Goethals

This week we are excited to have Virginie, from our partner Free to Run, blog about her experience of organising hiking and track training groups for refugees in Hong Kong. Free to Run is an NGO that aims to use the power of sport to change lives and communities in areas of greatest need, particularly to empower and educate females in conflict-affected communities. 

My grandfather was a refugee from Hungary who went on to live in Belgium and had refugee status for almost 30 years. He had survived terrible deprivations, amongst them several years in a Russian gulag (forced labour camp). The effects of his experiences on his personality left a profound impact on me: he never locked his house, should anyone need shelter. He invited every street vendor into his home, and said that when everything is taken away, only kindness and love is left to share with others.

My grandfather passed away as I launched my career as a corporate lawyer in New York, but my pro bono work was often refugee-related, letting him slowly back into my life. Three young kids and moving around in Asia made me re-evaluate my career, and I have not looked back since starting to be involved with Free to Run, which I heard about through its founder, my friend Stephanie Case.

The Run for Justice team

The Run for Justice team

This formidable NGO creates and supports an environment for women and girls in conflict zones, like South Sudan or Afghanistan, to participate in sport and physical education. Free to Run also reaches out to women and girls that are escaping war, torture and human cruelty. Very recently, I worked with two amazing Afghan women to participate in a 250 km self-sustained race, and we crossed the finish line with them as the first Afghan ultra-running team. Free to Run is now a new way to see life for me.

I truly believe that running and hiking is extremely empowering and can help anyone overcome their past and troubles. Refugees, particularly female refugees, don’t have a chance to access much sport or physical activity in Hong Kong. It’s usually the women who have to be home with the children, who are here as single parents or who, for cultural or language reasons, may find it difficult to access public space. Also, many of these women suffer from mental trauma as a result of their experiences. This is why, in June this year, together with a bunch of tireless Free to Run volunteers, help from the Hong Kong running community and Justice Centre’s support, we launched two initiatives: a “Hiking to Heal” programme for 20 refugee women and a mixed gender ‘Run for Justice’ track-training group. From the trainings, it’s been amazing to see that the participants in both the women’s hiking programme and the track-training group seem happier; they seem healthier; I think they feel they can enjoy the moment and not worry all the time about their legal case or what will happen to them. It structures their week and gives them a goal to work towards.

I am so proud to announce that these wonderful athletes will be participating in their first 10K running race on November 29, and more hiking programs mainly for refugee women are in the starting blocks. They are raring to go, but they need your support! Please visit the Run for Justice JustGiving page, sponsor them and share within your networks. Funds raised will go towards Justice Centre and Free to Run.

It is true that working with refugees means also letting them into your life, and during the hiking and running activities, we share our joys, frustrations and hopes together as true friends. The refugees that I have met through those programs have a pure kindness that is sometimes hard to find in our overly materialistic world. Having experienced the worst, they know the real meaning of love. They humble me to the bone, and truly deserve the best of life. Free to Run just tries to help them to run over the starting line of a new life.

Join us in cheering for our superstar Run for Justice team – donate via the JustGiving page, leave them words of encouragement and share!

FullSizeRender (7)Virginie Goethals is a Belgian mum, a lawyer and is on the Board of Directors for Free to Run. She is also a keen distance runner.

Rejection or protection?

Published on . Posted in Advocacy, Asylum seeker, Blog, Legal aid, LEGCO, Refugee, USM

Posted by Lynette Nam

This week, Justice Centre as well as other civil society members had the opportunity to address the Legislative Council Panel on Security (LegCo Panel) in advance of Hong Kong’s periodic review by the UN Committee against Torture in Geneva later this month. The LegCo Panel was a welcome opportunity for long overdue public discussion on the Unified Screening Mechanism (USM), the government’s screening mechanism for asylum claims, and it became apparent that LegCo members shared our concerns; particularly, concerns with the government’s recent negative rhetoric on refugees and with the transparency and standards of fairness.

Watch the full webcast of the LegCo Panel on Security session

Watch the webcast of the LegCo Panel session

Notably, and on a more positive note, Social Justice Alliance (SJA), a self-led community group formed by graduates of our Voices for Protection Human Rights and Advocacy Traineeship for refugees, also weighed in on the discussion with their experiences of the USM.  As a new member of Justice Centre, it excites me that I am part of an organisation that strives to make refugees’ voices heard – and to do so in a way that results in real practical action on a public platform.

Since starting as the Justice Centre Fellow last week, I have been familiarising myself with the USM and meeting with some of our beneficiaries who have come to Hong Kong to seek protection. As part of my work here in the legal team, I have been sitting down with beneficiaries to draft testimonies to support their claims; their experiences are often confronting and unimaginable from the comfort of soft couches and mugs of tea at our office.

Many of them have fled highly volatile countries, marred by widespread violence and political unrest. Many have experienced acts that are at the very least degrading and inhumane. While it is easy to be empathetic, our role at Justice Centre is to help them navigate the baffling maze that is the USM.

However, the concern has been that since its inception, the USM seemed to be designed to confound and dissuade. There was limited public consultation upon its introduction; despite repeated requests, there are no comprehensive statistics or database made publicly available to track its progress; and there is no set of precedents to draw upon for guidance, as redacted decisions under the USM are not published.

The lack of transparency aside, what is even more alarming is the rate of rejection of 99.7%, one of the highest in the world. This is rather hard to believe, given that we at Justice Centre are seeing claims for protection from countries with blatant and pervasive human rights abuses. The abysmally low rejection rate raises serious concerns about the underlying fairness and reasonableness of the decision-making process.

What surprises me most is the fact that many of the rejections are based not on the credibility of the claimant, but on the grounds that the decision-makers believed there is no risk in their countries of origin (COI). We find it disconcerting to see rejections of claimants from countries such as Central African Republic, Somalia or Yemen, which have been flagged by UNHCR and numerous governments as countries of concern for asylum purposes due to widespread conflict and persecution in those territories.

It is also concerning that the rejection letters seem to include COI research that does not correlate to the particular circumstances of the claimant, and reveal an exceptionally high bar for the risk of torture, cruel, degrading or inhumane treatment or punishment (CIDTP) and persecution. This puts into question the reasonableness of decisions, especially when pitched against international standards. This is why we are currently conducting a legal analysis of rejected decisions.

Transparency and fairness go to the core of any legitimate and just legal system. Instead, what we have right now places vulnerable people in a system steeped in confusion that focuses on rejection rather than protection.

There is a long road ahead before we arrive at a comprehensive, transparent and procedurally fair system for the vulnerable people who come to Hong Kong in search of sanctuary; yet I believe Hong Kong is a society that embraces solidarity and humanity, and I am hopeful we will get there.

 

36b81f4Lynette is the Justice Centre Fellow and the latest addition to our team. Before joining Justice Centre, Lynette worked at Fragomen Worldwide, an international law firm specialising in immigration law, in Australia and Hong Kong.  She also worked as a human rights trainer on the Thai-Burma border, where she developed and implemented a curriculum on non-violent social change for young Karenni refugees. 

 

Watch the webcast of the LegCo Panel on Security session here.

Read Justice Centre’s full speech to the LegCo Panel on Security here.

Read Social Justice Alliance’s full submission here.

Read Justice Centre’s shadow report to the Committee against Torture here.

Education is for all

Published on . Posted in Advocacy, Asylum seeker, Blog, LEGCO, Refugee

Posted by Zamira Monteiro

This week, we interview David (name changed), a refugee from the Middle East who joyfully told us about winning the elections to be on the board of the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) at his children’s school. Refugees are largely invisible in Hong Kong, and because of this, there are never enough stories about how refugees can and do positively contribute to their local communities. When we heard David’s story, we just knew we had to share it with you.

Tell us about the situation in your home country? Why did you have to leave?

In my country, there is war. There are terrorist groups which occupy many areas, and the regions are not safe. There are bombings all the time, and because of that all the schools are closed. I came here for my children’s safety, for my family. Because of the job that I had, my life was in danger – certain forces were trying to track me down and kill me – so I had to leave to make sure my family was safe.

So what is life in Hong Kong like for your children?

My children get to go to school here. They get to do activities like football. They are class monitors and also prefects, so they are doing very well. But during the vacation time, it can become very difficult because they have no classes, no school activities, so what else can they do?

I understand that you’re very passionate about education too. Tell me about how you get involved with the school’s activities.

I believe that education is for all: whether you are a local Hong Kong child, an asylum seeker or a refugee child, all children must be able to have an education. I also join in the school’s activities. I help them when they need, and I also join the sports day and the PTA. Every year, for the last three years, I have even received a cup from the school for being a good father!

So the school knows that you and your family are refugees and they support you?

Yes, the school has been very understanding of our situation, and they are very supportive and helpful. The problem is not the school, but the government policy. The Hong Kong Government does not provide enough assistance. For example, they will give money for tuition, textbooks and for transport to school, but they give this money in December and school starts earlier in September. How can we pay those costs if we don’t have any income here? Also the government does not provide money for school uniforms, stationery or after-school activities. How can I provide these for my children if I am also not allowed to work?

So how is it that you ran for the PTA elections?

The school asked if I wanted to be in the PTA elections. At first I said no because I did not know about the election. But they insisted that I participate. So I said okay, even though I did not understand the process. I went there and then realised that it was an election! It is very difficult for me because I am the only one from my country in the PTA and English is not my first language. I thought it would be very hard. I was worried because it’s the first time that I have done something like this. The other parents had come prepared with ideas for programmes they wanted to do if they won the election, but of course I did not know that I had to write a speech. Luckily, I was the ninth speaker, so I had some time to think. I had nothing to lose, so I just spoke from my heart, with passion. I said that this school is my home and that I will be the first person to help with everything. The school organises a picnic every year, but I said that instead they can take the children and even their parents to museums so that they can learn more about Hong Kong culture and history – share this with the families, not just the students. My other idea is also to have a box in the school where everyone can anonymously donate items, especially new items, so that less advantaged students don’t have to use old, second-hand uniforms or other used items.

How did it feel when you won?

I was very surprised and confused. I remember someone told me that refugees cannot go to school in Hong Kong or be part of the PTA, but we can, I can. I thought I would have no voice in the school since I am an ethnic minority and not a Hong Konger, but I won. Everyone was hugging me, it was great.

So what do you want to do now that you are on the board of the PTA?

I remember I said in my speech that I don’t like only hearing people talk, I want to see action. So now, I want to see what I myself will do. I want to meet with parents and see what they need and pass on that information to the school. Also, I want them to know who a refugee is, who we are, and that refugees can be educated and professionals. I want the Hong Kong public to know that refugees are normal people, just like them.

 

Justice Centre staff and refugee advocates will be attending the Hong Kong Institute of Education’s (HKIEd) Forum on “Educating Hong Kong’s Refugee Children: Policy and Practice” on November 6, 2015. Visit HKIEd’s website for more information.

Voices for Expression: Rapping with Refugees

Published on . Posted in Advocacy, Asylum seeker, Blog, Refugee

Posted by Ian Lam

“In pain, I was drained in both body and mind
But gotta find my own way, walk the thin line.” – Find My Own Way (MC Anjum) 

We are creatures of narratives. From our sophisticated moral code, to why you bought that iced skim milk latte this morning, our actions have reasons rooted in one story or another. Stories are simple things which help us understand the world, but they do demand one thing: for the audience to listen with an open heart, at least until the end of the tale. This is a story of hip hop and our journey of reflecting social injustices through the power of personal stories.

The story behind the label

Photo credit: Ian Lam

Photo credit: Ian Lam

Having worked with asylum seekers for a period of time to help them in the USM claim process, I felt I was always at arm’s length from the population. Interviewing clients for their asylum claims as a law firm student intern or as a Justice Centre volunteer gave me insights into their individual plight. Research into their countries of origin gave me a general idea of what they were fleeing from. Yes, I had a grasp of the facts necessary to support an asylum claim, but I had no understanding about their experience in Hong Kong or back at home. Who were they, really, behind the mere label of “asylum seeker” or “refugee”?

It then hit me – with language and cultural barriers, no ability to integrate in Hong Kong and concerns about their security – refugees have little means to tell their own stories. Knowing this, my partner Aston and I (via our group Thought Experiment Hong Kong) started the Voices for Expression: Rap & Poetics workshop series with the Social Justice Alliance, a refugee-led community group supported by Justice Centre. Driven by the hip hop philosophy of expressing one’s raw personal narrative through music, the project aimed to help participants to develop the tools to express themselves in rap/poetic verses over the course of six workshops that were hosted at The University of Hong Kong, courtesy of HKU Law Faculty’s Centre for Comparative and Public Law (CCPL).

Voices for Expression

Photo credit: Ian Lam

Photo credit: Ian Lam

The start of the workshop was not easy; I felt that a life of constant struggle and fear had conditioned some of the participants to protect themselves by expressing as little information as possible. Yet, although breaking the ice was difficult, their passion to learn soon flooded the classroom. I was genuinely surprised when the workshop participants profoundly empathized with the personal aspect portrayed in rap/poetry. They dug deep to articulate difficult experiences in their own words, despite many not having English as a first language.

Then came the hard social justice questions that hip hop inevitably deals with: discrimination, economic segregation, and the power of community representation. I had initially assumed that the discussions would be largely driven by their personal experiences, but I couldn’t have been more wrong – their level of political insight into the composition of institutional structures and intricacies of different modes of governance bordered on academic.

What really surprised me was the will to learn and perfect their craft. One participant in particular barely spoke English when he arrived in Hong Kong, but he wrote and rewrote his lines and practiced fiercely to capture the exact tone of expression – all to convey his thoughts to you, the listener. Another participant, eager to learn, stayed long after class to discuss the details of music production and sound editing.

Telling the story

As the workshop series drove on, each Emcee grew in ability and confidence, and their thoughts slowly blossomed into their verses: MC AKK’s “To Leave Your Country” tells a tale of a young man leaving his violent homeland, with traces of homesickness echoing in the background. MC Ray, with a deep empathy of those shackled in suffering, chains his words to ignite the will to survive and grow in his “Recreate Your Own Path”. MC Anjum’s “Find My Own Way” details the fear of persecution and the bureaucratic repercussion of being labeled a “refugee” in Hong Kong. MC Tina raps about the daily struggle and psychological torments of an asylum seeker’s daily experience in her “Life is Difficult”. MC Jawe’s “Child Soldier’s Life” explores the results of psychological conditioning and the relationship between a state’s political will and a soldier’s duty. Finally, MC Change’s “Africa Unite” is a cry for social unity and ethical politics, also serving as a critique on the state of democracy in Africa. I am proud to announce that you can now download the full album below, with each Emcee’s song and written verse.

As I switched off the lights after our final 10-hour recording session, I was humbled. With the warmth of MC Jawe’s goodbye hug, I understood that the six Emcees’ stories, will and perseverance have been crystallized into the recordings. I hope we have done a satisfactory job and done “justice” to their stories.

I am grateful to the Social Justice Alliance for the seamless collaboration effort and participation in the project, Justice Centre Hong Kong for their endless support and practical guidance, and HKU Law Faculty’s Centre for Comparative and Public Law (CCPL) for their generous support in providing access and facilities for the development of the project. And of course, MC AKK, MC Anjum, MC Change, MC Jawe, MC Ray and MC Tina, who have showed me the power of one voice.

“Honor, relight, kindle the freedom of rights
Dispel the shadows as the candles ignite!” Africa Unite (MC Change)

 

PhotoIan Lam (aka MC Ember) is a former legal volunteer at Justice Centre and co- founder of Thought Experiment Hong Kong. He is a postgraduate student of law at the University of Hong Kong.

 

 

You can now download and listen to the full Voices for Expression album on Thought Experiment Hong Kong’s Facebook page! The copyright of the vocal recording and written verse belongs solely to each Emcee.

Social Justice Alliance is a refugee-led community group supported by Justice Centre. The SJA was set up by refugees and prioritises soft advocacy and positive interaction with the Hong Kong population. To find out more about how you can support SJA, please contact Betsey at betsey@justicecentre.org.hk

Thought Experiment Hong Kong is a group co-founded by Aston Law and Ian Lam that seeks to facilitate personal connection and substantive interactions within the city as well as to promote the importance of critical thinking and substantial communications. To find out more about Thought Experiment Hong Kong, please visit their Facebook page or website

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