Let us go to school, plead teenage refugees

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 September, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 September, 2006, 12:00am

Youngsters seeking an education say they are stymied by bureacracy

Teenage refugees and asylum seekers say they are being denied schooling by the Education and Manpower Bureau, which they accuse of being insensitive to their plight.

Their comments came after a meeting with officers from the bureau, which an organiser described as 'disappointing'.

Before the meeting, which lasted almost two hours, seven masked teenage Africans protested near the bureau's office in Wan Chai.

They urged the authorities to arrange schooling for about 50 refugees and asylum seekers. Up to July, only 30 were allowed a place in school.

Annie Lin, community organiser with the Society for Community Organisation, said the children badly needed education as most were alone in Hong Kong and received only a few years of schooling in their native countries.

'Without school, they lack teachers or classmates who can teach or influence them,' she said. 'They need school for a more stable life as well.'

But Ms Lin described the meeting as disappointing, saying the bureau was not prepared to change its position.

'They insist the teenagers must obtain a letter of no objection from the Immigration Department and then they will decide whether they can go to school,' she said. 'But the problem is that the criteria behind why one teen can obtain the letter while the other cannot is quite blurred.'

Ms Lin said some of the teenagers had waited for one or two years and needed education, regardless of the letter.

There is no guarantee that the children will get a school place even if they do receive the letter.

Ms Lin said the group would seek help from the Legislative Council's complaints office after yesterday's appeal.

Among the protesters was an 18-year-old African, who wanted to be identified only as Joseph.

He said that since arriving in Hong Kong 18 months ago, he had been asking the Immigration Department to issue him a letter of no objection, but he still didn't have one.

'There is no limit to how long I should wait,' he said. 'I asked the department several times why they had rejected me. All they said was that my case was very complicated and they needed a response from the United Nations.'

Joseph said that as an asylum seeker, he could not find a job so he killed time with his friends, two of whom shared a small rented room with him.

'I want to be a mechanical engineer,' he said. 'I know Hong Kong is best for my security, but I don't know what to do with my life here.'

An Education and Manpower Bureau spokeswoman said it would seek advice from the head of the Immigration Department and see what it could do for teenagers with the right to stay temporarily.

She said they would consider their cases individually.