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Case Studies - Asylum-seeker and refugee children with no future

The first time Ali approached us, he was 12 years old. He was vivacious, energetic with his eyes shimmering with hope of becoming a soccer star. “Madam, I have been selected in the school soccer team. My coach told me that I will be going to Taiwan for training. Could you help me get a passport?” I was stunned, and found myself so shaken with sadness that I couldn’t open my mouth to tell Ali that he could not get a passport to leave. I simply told him that it was not possible. And he kept asking me why. So, in the end, I plucked up my courage to tell him that he would not be able to get a Hong Kong passport. He then pressed me to tell him why. “I was born in Hong Kong. I am from Hong Kong. Why can’t I get the passport like everybody else?”

True, even though Ali is half-Pakistani and half-Indonesian, he speaks fluent Cantonese, goes to a local school, enjoys soccer, ramen, fast food, and sushi like any teenager in this city.  He is a polyglot who speaks fluent Chinese, English, Urdu and some Indonesian -a typical trait of the asylum-seeker and refugee children who are born with parents of different nationalities. Yet, his statelessness has become an obstacle for a child such as Ali to fly high and have his dreams dashed the moment he realized that getting a passport to leave for training and subsequent trainings and competitions would be an impossible feat to pull off.

His mother came as a domestic helper and later realized that she was pregnant with Ali. Unable to go back, for fear of persecution and life threats from her parents because of Ali, his mother applied for non-refoulement and hoped that she could stay in Hong Kong so that her son could be protected. Yet, these days, with the Hong Kong Government’s determination for a “non-welcoming policy” to asylum-seeker and refugee policy – a number of the asylum-seekers have been removed from the territory and or even remaining in Hong Kong for appeal or judicial review, are certain that they would not be receiving legal aid to proceed with the case.  Ali and his mother, will be facing the same fate soon. And the time is unknown and the fate for young Ali is yet to unfold. But for now, he is dejected and upset, because a place he calls home has no space for his presence. “I just have a simple wish: that mum and I can live happily in Hong Kong.” But for now, his hope could just be a dream.

Christie (pseudonym) is 4 ½. We met Christie when she was one. Her mother brought her to the playgroup and she was still a very shy little toddler. Like a number of the other asylum-seeker and refugee children, Christie is brought up by single parent. And like a number of the asylum-seeker and refugee children, she was smart and quick and still very lively because she was not aware of her status. She was later, granted the rights of abode since her biological father (who is a Hong Kong citizen) agreed to help her obtain the citizenship. She finally was granted the legal status but that doesn’t mean her young life was smooth. Before she obtained her citizenship, she was rejected by lots of schools who told us that they do not accept children holding immigration papers or they do not know what an immigration paper is, thus they do not know “how” to accept her. After she received the formal citizenship status, she was invited for an interview to a local kindergarten but was despised by the teacher who questioned how a student could survive without understanding a word of Cantonese. She was put on the waiting list of that school. We then helped her to find a school in Yuen Long, New Territories, and she is now happily going to the school and understanding and speaking some Cantonese after almost a year in school.

Her life, however, does not look rosy. Her mother is an asylum-seeker whose case is now under Judicial Review and that could mean that her case may be rejected and she will be removed from Hong Kong. Under Hong Kong’s immigration law, there is no policy that allows underage children to apply for parents’ visa for guardianship in Hong Kong. This would mean that Christie could either leave with her mother or remain in Hong Kong, under the custody of social welfare department and separated from her mother. This, of course, contravenes the Convention of the Rights of the Child, which stipulates that signatory states like Hong Kong should put the best interest of children first. But with a big gap between international convention enforcement and local policy, Christie and her mother’s future is hanging by a thread.

Maria, Zara and Ammara are three sisters who are born with a Pakistani father and an Indonesian mother, are five, four and newborn respectively. They are enjoying every single moment in Hong Kong and making lots of friends in schools and in our playgroup.

Maria and Zara in particular are children we have watched growing up. Their parents, who love them dearly, have been expressing both gratitude and anxiety at the same time. Even though their children were born as asylum-seekers, they were well loved by us and the friends they met in the society. Like all our members, they have been receiving lots of support and material donations from the local community and as her mother said, their toys and books, which were donated by local individuals as well as expats, drew a lot of envy from neighbors who marveled at the amount of support they received. But at the same time, the uncertainty about the family’s future, with the father being Pakistani and the mother being Indonesian could mean that separation of the family is inevitable. They got married in Hong Kong in the form of a civil marriage. However, the Immigration Department still rejected their request to combine their cases together, so that they could be together.

The cases are testimonies of how Hong Kong Government has failed to fulfill their obligation as a signatory to the Convention of the Rights of the Child and has been ruthlessly and relentlessly disregarding the complexity and the need of the asylum-seeker and refugees. Their callousness in handling the cases has shown that the Hong Kong Government has been unable to live up to its reputation as an international city with its cultural insensitivity and its snobbery towards people who are not of their kind. They have also failed in terms of their human rights record by ignoring children and family’s plight in Hong Kong, an explanation they owe to the international community.

Written by Isabella Ng – Founder of The Hong Kong Society for Asylum-Seekers and Refugees


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