A refugee’s story of hope: safeguarding faith, family and freedom

As told to Fatima Qureshi.

Sabah* is from Egypt. Seeking refuge in Hong Kong with her husband and three children for a year now from religious persecution after her conversion to Christianity, Sabah talks about her broken past, struggling present and hopes for the future free from the anxiety of danger and exclusion.

This is her story (Part 1 of 2).

[Disclaimer: views expressed are interviewee’s own and do not necessarily reflect statements of fact]


What was the reason behind leaving Egypt with your family?

I converted to another religion. Only when you convert does it get harder everyday to live in Egypt. It’s difficult. And the Egyptians, especially Coptic Christians they have a lot of trouble with the Brotherhood. And after making the decision to convert to a religion I couldn’t live in Egypt anymore. I couldn’t.


Do you think it’s particularly unsafe for women?

There’s no freedom for women. I like to see the country, the people and the mindset change. I wanted to leave to a place where no one kidnaps women, breaking into your homes or destroying houses because I’m Christian. Maybe sometimes when someone breaks down the door, maybe 6 to 8 persons come in. Why? Because they want to kidnap us. No one will protect the Coptic Christians in Egypt. If you go back to 2010 to 2015, go visit the real people not just to see the Pyramids of Giza or something like that. No. Go to visit the people and ask them what they’re going through and their culture. When you go to the church to pray, someone outside is waiting for you with a machine gun to kill your brothers and sisters. Why would you plant an explosion in a place of worship different from yours? I’m not doing anything but praying. They made me leave my country.

Sanyat el Batates (right) and Pashamil (center) with fried chicken and rice. Photo: Phoebe So

That’s awful! But coming here, do you think Hong Kong is a safe environment to practice different religions?

 Here in Hong Kong, you can be a Muslim, a Jew, a Buddhist or a Christian and no one will say anything to you. It’s easy. You come to study a religion? It’s easy. No one attacks you. No one kidnaps you. Here, you can ask anything about your religion and you’ll get everything. If you want to go to the church, you can go. If you want to go to the mosque, you can go. But other countries you just can’t live this freely.


Let’s talk about your experience in Hong Kong. Can you describe the living conditions when you found shelter?

It was too hard for me and my children. All day we are outside because we get kicked out at 8am up until 6pm. You can’t cook. You can’t eat. You can’t do anything. My children and I are on the streets as early as 8am. We must leave the shelter. If you even touch the fridge, they will tell you to get out. We were lucky to meet someone at Christian Action and they showed us our place we are living in right now. All of them are really small places. Now we are living in a rather old building but it’s bigger than most places with two rooms. Bigger than our last place with just one room in the shelter. We’re running away from the shelter too. At least now my kids can do what they want and open the fridge without getting scolded.


What has Christian Action helped you with so far?

All refugees in Hong Kong have case officers. They give you a document where you need to bring to the Immigration Department and they give you a status in Hong Kong to live in as refugees. Sometimes we also need the mattress or a pillow, the case officers will also provide us with those things. They also give us breakfast, lunch and dinner if we can’t have any. And new clothes too. There are many case officers where they have a kitchen and other facilities for people like us. Some people don’t even have a home so they live there. No one supports you and there’s no work. ISS gives you $200 for transportation for a whole month. For my family of 5, we get $1000. We use the MTR all the time and it’s still not enough at the end. Going to Tuen Mun for my children’s school costs $50 for one person. One person travelling there and back. If I go complain, we discuss but that’s it. They don’t care.


(To be continued in Part 2 of this interview)

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