To be a refugee, no one wants to be a refugee. It is part of life. You never think, when you are in your home country “oh, one day, I will be a refugee”.
We kicked off the first session of Table of Two Cities with some incredible dishes from Uganda, prepared by Amanda*, one of the driving forces behind educational initiatives at Refugee Union.
As told to Tegan Smyth
Tell me a bit about yourself
I first came to Hong Kong in 2011. I’ve now been here for six years. I’ve been helping out at Refugee Union Hong Kong for four years. I do my best to counsel and assist the refugee community here.
Most of my responsibilities are to do with the guidance of refugees and asylum seekers, counselling and educating them in some areas, wherever I am able to assist. I was a teacher in Uganda. Now, I deal with women’s affairs and we set up different activities and programmes for Refugee Union. I also chair meetings and discussions for the Union and generally try to see that something is done to help educate [refugees].
We all come from different countries and have different levels of understanding, different backgrounds, different nationalities and even different abilities. There are some areas where I feel I have to help and give others a platform. I can’t do everything but where I feel they need support, I try my best to help. Refugees and asylum seekers, no matter where they come from, I handle them as one.
Another thing I do for refugees and asylum seekers, is run educative programmes, though we are limited by finance. Most of the time, we organise programmes to share peoples’ histories, their backgrounds, their experiences and challenges in Hong Kong. We talk about how they go about their daily life, which problems they face as refugees and asylum seekers and where they need support and guidance.
We will bring people together for a meeting or a discussion, to let people share and support each other and help them handle their lives and improve their situation. Before, we used to have classes three times a day [at Refugee Union], but at the moment we don’t have much support. We do need people to help support us to run these programmes. We need support from companies, from people, whoever is able to facilitate and set up programmes.
I feel I have to do my best because I see many areas where refugees and asylum seekers are missing out on a lot and where they need support. For example, some refugee mothers, they need some kind of education to be able to handle their kids. But they do not receive that education. So I feel that even their kids will miss out on that guidance from their mothers. Many of these children may be born of domestic workers and their mothers do not have any social support. They themselves may not be well educated. Many do not speak English. They are lacking social guidance. They need people to help guide them because learning is essential, even as adults. Where you lack skills in certain areas, you need to acquire knowledge from people who have those skills.
So these are things I feel [refugees] are lacking, some of the refugees here have never gone to school at all, even though they are adults. They never had the chance to attend school and now they are here in Hong Kong. So I feel they are missing out, especially if they are in this competitive community. This community is of civilised people. Hong Kong is a civilised place – yes!
People need to be upgraded. People need to be refreshed. People need to be put on the level of everyone else in the community. And this cannot be done by anyone in particular – this needs to be done by people who have skills and the ability to help. They have to come up and support those that don’t have or know as much as them. Refugees and asylum seekers, we are needy people. So when anyone comes to us in need, we assist in every way we can.
What would you like people in Hong Kong to know about you, and refugees?
We are now in Hong Kong. We have nothing to hide. There is no problem with [Hong Kong people] knowing us, they have to know us. They have to be aware we are in Hong Kong and these are our needs, these are our problems, these are our challenges. These are our hardships. This is how we find our lives as refugees and asylum seekers in Hong Kong.
And all this, to be a refugee, no one wants to be a refugee. It is part of life. You can consider it a cycle. You never think, when you are in your home country “oh, one day I will be a refugee”. All the first hardships, all the first problems which convinced me to move from my country to another country, it is all a part of life. It just comes and one day, you are somewhere. That’s Hong Hong.
For me, by the time I came here in 2011, I did not know I would be here until now. But I’m here. I do want to say Hong Kong is not a bad city, most of the people in Hong Kong are not bad. Not all the people in Hong Kong are cold-hearted. Of course there are some. Some who are bad. Some who are selfish. Some who don’t think of others. Some that do not know that this world we live in is just a change of life.
I can say there are people in Hong Kong who have come to support us and have been standing with us, people with good hearts, people who can give us water and food. People who can sympathise and understand us. These are the people that know what it is to be a refugee. I have to thank them.
(To be continued)