Imagine waiting for the MTR. You see the sign indicate approximately 2 minutes of wait time until the next train arrives. Finally, the “arriving” signal appears, but just when you are about to walk towards the sliding doors, it resets without reason, this time to 4 minutes.
Again, after 4 slow minutes, you see the signal switch to “arriving” – finally! you think, and walk again towards the sliding doors. A minute, two minutes pass, your anticipation fermenting into numbing anxiety. But the train is nowhere to be found. The signal is stuck on the “arriving” and this time you have no idea when it’s actually going to arrive. It’s a first-class, globally renowned system, yet no one offers an explanation for the malfunctions.
Yet right behind you is another platform full of people getting on and off a recently arrived train. They bustle around you, occasionally elbowing you with their heads down, focused on their mobile screens. After two, three, four more trains roll through that platform while the sign on your platform flickers painstakingly between 4 minutes and arriving, you decide to have your try at boarding that other train. It may not be the destination you originally thought, but at least you would be heading somewhere.
An official stops you and demands that you produce identification. But your passport is stored away in the Immigration Office and the only form of ID you have is a laminated, folded A4 piece of paper declaring that you are seeking asylum, and it is deemed unacceptable for boarding rights. You're forced to turn around and head back to the platform of indefinite waiting.
This is but a surface level take on the excruciating uncertainty that asylum seekers and refugees face in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is not signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees, which means that it is not legally obligated to settle refugees, yet this lack of signature does not keep it immune from the global refugee crisis. With an unprecedented 65.6 million people forcibly displaced globally today and Hong Kong as one of the world’s safest cities, the 12,000 asylum seekers and refugees here cannot be brushed aside as an unwanted inconvenience.
Unable to legally stay, the displaced among us wake up every day waiting for the government to deem their story worthy of our international humanitarian system, waiting for another country to accept them onto their shores, waiting for their lives to finally continue. But International Politics 2016-2017 has not been on their side, and the wait for a receiving country has transformed from a test of patience into a complete gamble, with little signs for hope.
Where is your identity when there is no state claiming you as their own? Where is your security with no authority willing to protect and uphold your life? How do you live your life when the government tells you that everything you see around you does not belong to you and that you do not deserve to access it?
Local policy prohibits refugees and asylum seekers from legally working in Hong Kong, so although many have professional backgrounds and university degrees, they are forbidden from becoming productive members of society. They receive monthly provisions, 1500HKD for housing allowance, paid directly to the landlord, and 1200HKD in food coupons, which is barely enough for an individual to live on, yet accumulated over time becomes a burden to the economy. Unable to fully incorporate and settle into the SAR, refugees are in a constant state of limbo, forever waiting on a platform, unable to move forward.
This is why programs like Refugeek, a coding academy training refugees in technological skills, are so needed. The Hong Kong government may forbid full time employment, but it cannot stop them from being trained in professional skills with high market demand in today’s global tech-based economy. With Refugeek's coding academy, the precarious waiting time can be transformed into a valuable training period, giving refugees a day-to-day purpose, providing a vehicle to drive while they wait for their train to arrive, and preparing them for the economy that awaits them.
We're standing with refugees at Garage Society, and we invite you to sponsor 4 of our members who are committing to run 1000km before 16th October to fundraise 4000HKD to support a Refugeek student. Learn more here.
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As part of Garage Society’s Well-Being Month, we sat down with Dutch entrepreneur Madelon van de Ven, to learn more about her flourishing plant subscription startup and her mission to get more urbanites to experience the health and well-being benefits of plants.