The waiting game: 16 years in Hong Kong as a refugee

As told to Leanne Ledgard. Words by Leanne Ledgard.

Mahmoud* arrived in Hong Kong more than sixteen years ago, after fleeing persecution in his country. Despite all his children being born and raised in Hong Kong, each day is uncertain, as Mahmoud cannot work to provide for his family – and his children live as stateless persons.


Would you mind telling me a bit about yourself? Where are you from?

I am from Pakistan.


And when did you come to Hong Kong?



What things would you like people to know about yourself?

I mean, what do people want to know about my situation? How I am suffering? I have been here since 2001. It is not a little amount of time. My children were born in Hong Kong. They do have birth certificates [showing they were born here], but they don’t have rights in Hong Kong for anything. I think it was a bad day, the day I made the decision to come to Hong Kong.


In many different countries… Europe, United States and Canada, it is possible to stay in these countries – I think for a few years. After five years, a person can see their case [for asylum heard], if they have not been given the right to stay already.

But in Hong Kong, since 2001, I have not been allowed to work. I have children. You would think that after 16 years right something would be done? I cannot work in Hong Kong and this is not a good life. I was young, but day by day, I’m getting old. I have my children, so what is their future?

People should know what is going on in Hong Kong. Like, my situation. Everybody has different case, different situation, different problem [being a refugee], its very hard in Hong Kong.

Photo: Vlad Popov.

Did you know much about Hong Kong before you came here?

Of course not. When I came in Hong Kong, it was my second time. But that moment, in the year I left, I went anywhere that would accept us for visa, it was urgent… like getting a passport, buying any ticket out of my country.


I decided to come Hong Kong although the moment [after the Handover] in 1997, everything changed. The British government moved from Hong Kong, but in my mind it was still the way [I remembered it]. We knew that Hong Kong was a British colony, but my own experience of this is only word of mouth.


But because the British left, they handed over to the Chinese, so it became a Chinese country. Sometimes I think if the British government was still here in HK, I don’t think that I would have stayed here for 16 and a half years waiting for my claim to be processed, without a job. I cannot work, it’s not legal. If I work, I could be punished (jailed) from two to 18 months, so who will take care of my children?


What do you think living in Hong Kong is like for you children?

I can say, they go to school, but there’s no future for them. They go to school, only to learn they lack status in Hong Kong. They were born here but they government in doesn’t accept them as nationals. Will they be given the right [of asylum] in HK? No.


What would like the public to know about your personal situation or the situation of other refugees?

Yes. I came to Hong Kong to make my children’s future, for their home. In my home country, and their mother’s home country, there is nothing. They have nowhere to go.

Welfare only give you food now, often rubbish food was given to refugees before. Now it is a little bit different because we have been struggling here for our rights for a long time. Since 2003 or 2004, these [welfare departments] have grown from 3 staff to 300 workers. They will get money for their work.


This is a business, it makes a business of refugees. They don’t want to make a decision. How can they support a client’s case then? When can something real happen? You don’t have to be like me, waiting 16 and a half years.

Photo: Vlad Popov.

Are you hopeful, that you will get granted residency or you will be given an ID card?

You know, I have to have hope because in my home country, I am stateless. I was stripped of papers [that I used to have]. So here you can see my situation, only God can do something. He can move the mountains but I don’t believe in many people.

There is nothing here, nothing, nothing I can give, nothing good for my health, even the medicine they give me is very bad. But when you have back pain, head pain, liver problems, heart problems… They give you panadol! Because you are stateless. Seeking asylum in Hong Kong [means] mostly discrimination anywhere you go.


From local people, do you experience discrimination?

Yeah! Of course, even right now going to the agent of my apartment, I know they are lying to me. They hate or they don’t like refugees [and minorities]. Here it’s like an animal’s system. They don’t care! Don’t care who you are, what you are, what your problems are. We don’t know the laws of Hong Kong and it is very hard learning the language.


So, it’s hard to communicate with the locals?



Shall we talk about your food a little bit?

Yeah, yeah.


What did you cook today?

I cook today, only a beef curry, another is the biryani and roti and another chicken.


Are these things that you would cook at home for your family?

Yes, at home, yeah.


Are they special dishes, or every day kind of things?

No, the biriyani you can see its special meal but not for every day. But beef curry and roti, we usually eat every day, for lunch. You eat at lunch with rice, with white rice, with vegetables, something like that.


And does it remind you of your home culture and country?

Yeah! always, yeah


Do you feel like people don’t listen to your story or that you have told it to a lot of people?

Everybody’s case is different. Some things you can share, some things you cannot share… it’s very hard. There are many legal issues as a refugee [filing a protection claim], so I cannot and mostly don’t share [my story], no.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s