Motherhood and living as an asylum seeker

As told to Dannie Higginbotham and Cynthia Chung

June*, from Indonesia, has lived in Hong Kong since 2006 and is a former domestic helper seeking asylum in Hong Kong. Over beef rendang, June talks about her time as a helper, her daughter, and life as an asylum seeker.

Can you tell us about yourself, anything you want people to know?
I’m Indonesian, an asylum seeker now, before I was a domestic helper here. I’ve lived in Hong Kong since 2006. I have one daughter.

How did you go from being a domestic helper to an asylum seeker?

I was finishing my contract of two years when I had some problem with the contract from my agency. The woman who introduced me to the employers, the one who owns the agency, disappeared. She had a heart attack. I had been in Hong Kong for almost two years and I didn’t know anything at that time.

I was confused and depressed and didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t really familiar with many people at that time because it is a really short time for me to know everything about Hong Kong so that time so when I left my boss’s home, I stayed outside for two weeks, I went to the immigration center to extend my visa. They demand[ed] HKD 160 HKD from me, but I couldn’t pay it so I left the center. They just gave me two days. They asked me to exit Hong Kong but I didn’t have money. A few times, I begged for money in the MTR.

June, preparing the beef for her dish, rendang. Photo: Tegan Smyth

Do you find some of the refugee outreach services in Hong Kong helpful?

Yeah they’re helping me, even one of the staff [at ISS] helped admit me to the hospital and everything. I needed to deliver my baby unexpectedly, because they found out my blood pressure was high so I had to deliver immediately.

For over 7 months I didn’t see the doctor, but thank God my baby was ok. The transportation allowance is HKD 200 for me, HKD 200 for my daughter. It’s not enough; I go to Tuen Mun to report to the immigration office once a week. I need to wake my daughter up at 7 in the morning and she’s angry and throws tantrums, but I need to bring her Tuen Mun then to school every Tuesday. I’ve been reporting for one and a half years but nothing’s changed.

When we pass by the market, my daughter wants to buy bread, she wants to buy something. Sometimes I bring food from home but she still want to buy things, she’ll say, “mum I want this one, I want that”. I couldn’t give her everything she wants.

For some of the clothing, it’s from Vision First.


Tell us about what we’re cooking today.

Beef rendang. This is a very heavy food because of the ingredients; beef and coconut milk are very filling. I don’t consume it often; once a month, maybe. You eat it with rice and prawn crackers.

What are some typical ingredients in Indonesian food?

Ginger, shallots, garlic, coriander, tumeric, lemongrass and lemon leaves. We need to cook this on very low heat; it takes a few hours.

June’s take on rendang. Photo: Tegan Smyth

Is this your favourite dish?

Actually, I don’t eat it often. I make it for my friends.

[To be continued]

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