“When I am in the MTR, people sometimes pinch their noses and move away as if I smell. If my arm touches theirs, they brush themselves off as if I’ve dirtied them. It hurts.” These were the words of a refugee who participated in a workshop I observed last week at the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) to teach graduates of Justice Centre’s Voices for Protection about Hong Kong’s anti-discrimination laws and the mandate of the EOC.
Though many times necessary, there is a danger in labelling groups. It becomes much easier to process and understand once we can file information about certain people in that one cabinet in our mind. But often, I think, we begin to blur the lines more than we should; the people in that group become that label and all the individuality and diversity that exists gets filed away too.
What images does the word “refugee” provoke in your mind? Maybe your thoughts are influenced by United Nations advertisements: you imagine a poor, hungry, homeless, uneducated, non-professional, who is miserably dressed. Or perhaps, affected by some media reporting in Hong Kong, you might think refugees are only “South Asian people” who had no jobs and money in their countries and came here to “dry up Hong Kong’s resources”?
It isn’t so often in this line of work that you get to get to see the fruits of your and other NGOs’ labour in the form of real policy reform and improvement on the ground. Achieving change in refugee rights in Hong Kong is slow and incremental, and the challenge with advocacy, in general, is that there is never any guarantee that your campaigning will succeed.
For one week in May, myself and a few of my colleagues were humbled and privileged to be let intimately into the lives of some of Hong Kong’s refugees. We travelled the length and breadth of the island and outlying territories with Filipina photographer Xyza Cruz Bacani, documenting through words and pictures, stories of cruelty, hardship and terror; but ultimately of hope, survival and love.