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Fleeing From The Gambia; Rejected In Hong Kong

By Askia

Gambian in Hong Kong (art expression)

I arrived in Hong Kong in late 2014 and I fell in love with the diversity and vibrancy of the city, lots of different people from all over the world. It’s a different feel here. I’m a former Law Student at The University Of The Gambia (UTG) in Africa, West Africa, and also a former part-time freelance Journalist when I had to flee to Hong Kong for my safety and security.

I finished High School, College, started University and then fled, as a former active Member of The National Union of Gambian Student’s (NUGS) and also a Member and Ambassador of The Management Development Institute Student’s Union (MDISU). Our lives might be shrouded in desperation and frustration but we try to keep heads up and be optimistic. I really want to go back to University to pursue my education and I think my dream of becoming a Human Rights Lawyer had been shattered. In November 2014, I did apply for enrollment scholarship under an undergraduate programme of The University of Hong Kong(HKU), Faculty of Law but I was unsuccessful due to limited places and perhaps a status issue as well.

In Hong Kong, the acceptance rate of Refugees/Asylum Seekers is about 0.6 percent, approximately out of about 10,000 Claimants as of recently only 86 Claimants are accepted. No opportunities for us here and we are trapped and repeatedly denied our basic rights such as Work, Study etc. This is terrible. Government support regarding food, transport and housing is barely insufficient, we have to top up our rent every month, otherwise, you will have to be destitute even though we are not allowed to work, which is unfair. Is that support in the name of support without changing people’s lives? This is inhuman. Actually, it is very disheartening and terribly unfair for the government to think that we are not genuine. There are genuine Claimants and not Economic Asylum Seekers.

I applied for Judicial Review (J.R) in April 2018 with The High Court of The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR). My Unified Screening Mechanism (USM) Claim was refused in August 20177 by way of questions & answers form (Q&A) and the Immigration Officer failed to explore all necessary means to get me for a formal and fair screening interview. Is this just a mere procedural formality? I did provide medical proof as to why I could not attend the scheduled interview but the Officer disregarded it. A Senior Resident Doctor of The Hong Kong Eye Hospital (HKEH) had also authored a Medical Report in support of my religious persecution claim in which she found out my claims of torture are consistent with her findings but both the Immigration Officer and The Torture Claims Appeal Board(TCAB)/Non-refoulement Claims Petition Office (NCPO) had blatantly refused that my claims were, in fact, the actual cause of my eye injury which now necessitated a continuous follow-up medical appointment with the Hospital.

Regarding my political persecution claim I had been very consistent as to factual matters but to no avail. The government back home deemed my political reporting as a freelance journalist to be critical of them, disregarding freedom of the press and independent reporting which I prioritize the most, government censorship and political interference in the media wasn’t something I had to shoulder with.

I did lodge an Appeal/Petition with The TCAB/NCPO in September 2017. The appeal hearing was scheduled in March 2018 which I attended and a decision on my appeal was subsequently issued in late March 2018 refusing all my claims. Personally, I feel very uncomfortable and uncertain about my future in HK as I think I’m almost at the last resort which is J.R. and I could be deported after the J.R is determined which can be anytime from now, given the circumstances that I would face substantial and imminent risk/danger when returned back to my Home Country.

The lower ground floor of a skyscraper and its highest floor that’s how I draw a comparison between the lives of the super rich and that of poor, vulnerable and disadvantaged Refugees/Asylum Seekers in Hong Kong, the gap is immeasurable. Hong Kong is one of the most unequal cities in the world, It is a place where the rich make lucrative and profitable business deals every day but the Refugees/Asylum Seekers are left in limbo, it can take up to a decade or more for some claims to be processed being end up rejected after a painful and unbearable long wait. Is isn’t it?

Finding measures to end/abolished “massive and systematic” racial discrimination against Ethnic Minorities(EM’s) and Refugees/Asylum Seekers is highly solicited. Discrimination as a plight/predicament for minorities is thoroughly a “vicious cycle”. The Government Institutions and the local public must have regards for “Article 25 of The Basic Law” (Hong Kong’s Basic Law guarantees Equality before The Law).

EM’s and Refugees/Asylum Seekers rights should be protected. We expect to be “treated with respect for dignity”, which is protected by The “Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance (HKBRO)”. There should not be “differential treatment” based on Ethnicity, Race or Color. “Unfavorable treatment” of EM’s and Refugees/Asylum Seekers must be avoided at all costs. Hong Kong’s “Anti- Discrimination Ordinance” must be upheld to its fullest. The fight against biases, calls for urgent action to reform, amend and enact Anti- Discrimination Laws as On “20th December 1996”, The Sex Discrimination Ordinance, under which The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) was established. The local public should not nurture any negative perception or notion against EM’s and Refugees/Asylum Seekers based on “Stereotyped or Generalized Assumptions”, which might make them feel a kind of a “less favorable treatment”.

According to Article 22 and Article 23 of the HKBORO, there are rights that must be given to minorities and, above all, there must be equality before the law. It must be acknowledged by all sectors that, the EM’s and Refugees/Asylum Seekers who have historically been marginalized in the city because of; lack of cultural diversity, racial intolerance, lack of education, lack of inclusion and open-mindedness. These factors that many EM’s and Refugees/Asylum Seekers face insurmountable barriers, inequality, poverty, stigma and inherent disadvantage. The first approach in ruthlessly rooting out such serious social injustices is there must be acknowledged.

There is a responsibility of upholding and safeguarding the fundamental human rights, liberties, and freedoms of the EM’s and Refugees/Asylum Seekers. The law must be applied equally to all, regardless of their background; race, color, ethnicity, nationality, status, and religion. Lots of Refugees/Asylum Seekers has considerably suffered, be it emotional distress, immeasurable and irreparable mental and psychological harm, anguish, depression, anxiety and profound deterioration of health. The use of “coercive measures” (i.e detention by force or authority against a person’s will) must not be entertained in Immigration Detention Centres where EM’s and Refugees/Asylum Seekers are detained.

Bumping into Ms. Tegan and friends on a fine Sunday evening of April 2018 at Chungking Mansions was like a God-sent-Miracle. It was like having met someone discussing things that are part and parcel of myself and I got to approach. Tegan is like an Angel in my Life and I never thought that really good people like her still existed until recently when I met her. Meeting her is one of the most pleasurable moments so far. Her project the Table of Two Cities (TOTC) is super amazing! She runs the project during her leisure time and it is about bringing grassroots projects together to assist refugees/Asylum Seekers.

Perception changers! Recently, I took part in a visit to the CUHKFAA Chan Chun Ha Secondary School in Ma On Shan in May 2018. Participants included a Southern African, West African, East African, Middle Eastern, Central African & an East Asian. The School Principal and a Senior Teacher warmly welcomed us, for that we are grateful and they did indicate their interest in students knowing Refugees/Asylum Seekers affairs as a way of broadening their horizons and awareness in changing their mindsets or misconceptions. This visit was really interactive and informative, it basically avails the students the chance to learn a wide range of issues. I did receive an envelope from one of the student’s which had a note inside which read: In the land of hope, there is never any winter- Russian Proverb. I felt very touched by this.

The students, who are mostly teens with bright minds did express their dissatisfaction and disappointment as to how the government treats Refugees/Asylum Seekers and at the same time, they also hope for meaningful change in the foreseeable future. It’s the students’ position that Refugees/Asylum Seekers who are capable must be given a chance to contribute their quota to society. Sharing/exchange of ideas at the school was really interesting, the Refugees/Asylum Seekers taught Foreign Language, Communication Skills and Firefighting Skills and in exchange, the students taught us Chinese Music, Cantonese language and their school song. While at the school, I did notice the student’s lack of confidence and shying away when it came to speaking English. I think people should be confident and comfortable enough to communicate in English and English isn’t something foreign in Hong Kong, given the fact that it used to be a former British Colony until 1997 – I too also come from a former British colony.

Words should be freely spoken out without any shying away and you will be corrected when you are wrong, that’s one of the ways how we learn. I believe it is always important to speak up for what is right, and it doesn’t matter what the language of choice is.

I did not get the chance to tell the students this but my message to them and other activists is: Life is a school. The places you see yourself are all the classes. The people you meet in your journey are either your classmates or your schoolmates. So if you eventually fail any course or get isolated by your schoolmates, don’t feel bad. Just keep trying and studying hard for your next examination. You might graduate before them. You are going to meet people who would tell you that you don’t fit into their class, you are going to meet those who are bent on discouraging and bringing you down, you are going to meet some lazy or wicked. Some would never want to see you graduate. You are going to meet students who think you are not in their class. Allow them to maintain in their one class. Never forget the lessons life taught you and the ones it’s yet to teach you because it must. But never regret your mistakes and failures too much. Just change your handwriting, your classmates, friends, and strategy. If possible, read hard to promote yourself to a higher class and you’ll be surprised to be higher than those who thought they were better than you. That’s the way it is. What’s worth doing is worth doing well. Live life like you are the best of your kind. Create room for your own happiness and many students (people) would want to have you as their Captain.

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