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 for more details.

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

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.


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.


Kacey Wong and Katie Vajda: Art and Human Rights

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

Posted by Zamira Monteiro

Kacey Wong

Kacey Wong

Only one week to go till the launch of Human Rights Week 2015! Are you as excited as we are?

As part of the line-up, we’re very honoured to have visual artists Kacey Wong and Katie Vajda delivering a special talk on the use of art as a tool to raise awareness of human rights issues. They will speak about some of their projects and the issues they are passionate about, particularly reflecting on the value of protest art and tips for effective art advocacy for emerging artists.

This talk will be of interest to emerging artists, art students and enthusiasts, and anyone interested in activism!

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Into Wonderland by Katie Vajda. The donated artwork will be auctioned on December 10.

Kacey is an educator and an active contemporary visual artist in Hong Kong. A former judge of the Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize, Kacey’s experimental art project investigates the poetics of space between men and their living environment. He was the winner of the Best Artist Award in 2010, Rising Artist Award and Outstanding Arts Education Award given by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council in 2003. Kacey is well known for using his art as social activism and for his public engagement art projects in the Occupied Zone during the Umbrella Movement. As an art activist, his recent political artworks explore the possibility between art and public demonstration, linking art and political resistance into one.

Katie is a photographic artist living and practising in Hong Kong. Her work is beautifully executed yet challenging, engaging with cultural theory and philosophy. Katie’s work has appeared regularly in Hong Kong media and been exhibited both locally and internationally, most recently at Fine Art Asia, The Arts Centre HK and Art Miami 2015. Katie was also the winner of the Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize in 2014, with her series ‘Can you see me yet?’.

Black Cop Candle by Kacey Wong

Black Cop Candle by Kacey Wong. The donated artwork will be auctioned on December 10.

Both Kacey and Katie have also generously donated artworks that will be auctioned at our invite-only awards ceremony and charity auction on the evening of December 10, which is International Human Rights Day.


Artist talk: Art and Human Rights by visual artist and activist, Kacey Wong (in English)

Date: Wednesday, December 9, 7-8pm

Venue: The Fringe Club, 2 Lower Albert Road, Central.

Admission: Free

RSVP by emailing or calling 3109 7359.

Check out the full line up of events for Human Rights Week 2015 at

You can now preview the gallery of shortlisted artworks for the Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize and pre-bid online at  

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.


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

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 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 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.

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