Pakistani woman becomes first refugee in HK to gain entry to a local university

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 August, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 31 August, 2009, 12:00am

Sarah, a 27-year-old Pakistani, is the first person who has gained refugee status in Hong Kong to gain entry to a Hong Kong university. She will begin her studies at Hong Kong University next month as a 'visiting student'.

Fleeing religious persecution and still wanting to remain anonymous, she and her family left their home country seven years ago and were granted refugee status in Hong Kong after three days in an asylum-seekers' camp at the airport.

Before she left Pakistan, she was a year two student at the Government College for Women at Punjab University, majoring in home economics and physical education.

Since then her only studies have been English classes at the British Council and cake-baking classes run by the Caritas charity.

Her mother, Nasira, 52, is delighted for her daughter. 'I am so happy that my daughter can study in a university after such a long time,' she said, speaking Urdu which was then translated by her daughter. 'I was so worried about her as a lot of time has been wasted. I will pray for her studies.'

Asylum seekers and people who have refugee status in Hong Kong are not allowed to work and are ineligible for any training from the Employees Retraining Board or the Vocational Training Council.

They may be allowed education at the discretion of the Director of Immigration.

After failing in several attempts to get vocational training, Sarah gained the assistance of the Society for Community Organisation to apply for university in September last year. Able to take only two courses because of her visiting-student status she will join introductory courses on social work and management.

'I want to study social work as it is a subject I like,' she said. 'I can be a social worker in the future to help people. There are so many people with problems in their lives.'

She acknowledged that even after her studies she will not be allowed to work in Hong Kong, 'But in the future, if I go to another country, I will be,' she said.

Sarah is already using her English skills to help others.

'In Hong Kong, there are a lot of people from Pakistan, India and Nepal who do not know English and I help them to translate.'

Although her limited studies cannot lead to a degree, she pledged to study hard.

'It has been quite a long time since I studied.'

Sarah likes to make friends but doesn't want them to know about her past life and its troubles. 'There is no need to tell,' she said.

A university spokeswoman said Sarah's application had been approved 'solely on merit'.

'The applicant's results satisfied the requirement for a full-time visiting student. There was no privilege in her refugee status.'

However, her fees have been waived as she cannot afford them.