Charity group faces uphill struggle to provide for refugees, asylum seekers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 September, 2008, 12:00am

Marginalised and persecuted in their home countries for political and religious reasons, refugees and asylum seekers from around the world are finding shelter in Hong Kong.

Christian Action, which last year received HK$551,936 from Operation Santa Claus, an annual charity campaign jointly organised by the South China Morning Post and RTHK, has been meeting some of their needs at its refugees' and asylum seekers' centre at Chungking Mansions.

The group has also used the funds to support services at its Jordan Centre in Kowloon to help ethnic minority residents better integrate into Hong Kong society.

The Chungking Mansions centre provides food and shelter to refugees and asylum seekers from all over the world. It also makes educational arrangements for about 100 children, and medical needs are looked after.

Every day 100 to 150 meals are handed out there, and clients also receive petty cash for small purchases.

The centre also provides community and psychological support and counselling services.

But even with the support from Operation Santa Claus, helping refugees and asylum seekers can be a challenge.

Cheung Ang Siew-mei, executive director of Christian Action, said inflation had hit refugee services hard, increasing the cost of food and other daily necessities.

And Jonathan Harland, manager of the refugees' and asylum seekers' programme, said spending on food and emergency housing had increased more than 40 per cent.

'The demand for the service is increasing in an accumulative way,' he said.

Asylum seekers could remain in Hong Kong for months and years, he added. 'That could also imply more resources to be spent on the educational needs of the children of the asylum seekers, some of whom would be entering school age.'

However, the plight of many asylum seekers is such that even the difficulties created by inflation do not always register.

'I have never tried buying anything at all ... so I don't know anything about inflation in Hong Kong,' said Mine, an asylum seeker who declined to give her real name and place of origin. She is in Hong Kong with three of her children, who range in age from six years to 18 months.

She said her routine involved travelling back and forth from the service centre to her shelter, meeting other asylum seekers, taking care of her young children and reporting to the Immigration Department once every six weeks.

She said isolation and loneliness were among the biggest challenges she faced in Hong Kong.

Isolation from society was an issue that both asylum seekers and ethnic minority Hong Kong residents faced, said Poon Wing-lok, manager of the group's social service department. To counteract the effects of isolation for ethnic minorities, the Jordan Centre has been providing classes, outings, homework support and language lessons to the non-Chinese-speaking community in nearby districts, mainly Yau Ma Tei, Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok.