The forgotten citizens

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 November, 2010, 12:00am

Discrimination against minority groups is the single most important barrier to their full human development in society. In his latest policy address, the chief executive said the Home Affairs Bureau would form a special team to tackle issues related to the social integration of minority groups in Hong Kong. He said the team would strengthen inter-departmental co-operation to give better social support to these groups.

But issues concerning ethnic minority groups in Hong Kong go beyond the bureau's ambit; they should fall within the scope of the Equal Opportunities Commission. Many of them are the 'forgotten citizens', who are being neglected and discriminated against in everyday life, and in education and employment.

The issue of minority groups is a remnant of our colonial past. During early British colonial rule, a number of minority groups from India and Pakistan were recruited into the police force.

Of course, many local Indians and Pakistanis have become successful businessmen in Hong Kong. But, the majority are manual workers, mostly security guards. Stuck at the lower rungs of the social ladder, they face constant discrimination and violations of basic human rights.

Sadly, this appears to have been the norm for many decades. Many of us seem to have forgotten that these people are also part of our community and that most consider Hong Kong their home.

Under the Basic Law, they are permanent residents of Hong Kong. But, in reality, they do not receive fair and equal treatment and the situation is worsening.

During the colonial era, Indians and Pakistanis could work in the police or for the correctional services. But, since the handover, many have been left out in the cold because the rules now stipulate applicants must read and write Chinese. Most, who only speak Cantonese, would naturally fail this test.

Furthermore, job opportunities in the security industry have decreased in recent years. With fewer job options and rising discrimination, many children from these ethnic groups have become delinquents. Many have even reportedly been recruited by triads. The minority-groups issue is more than just a social issue; it poses a serious threat to our social order.

Besides the Indian and Pakistani minority groups, we also have the Gurkhas, who fought for the British Army for almost 200 years but were left behind after the handover. Nepali people face similar unfair treatment.

The biggest hurdle for these minority groups is the language barrier. Many may speak the local dialect fluently, but when it comes to learning the Chinese language properly in a school setting, it becomes almost impossible.

We don't have special schools to meet the needs of children from these groups. The current education system puts them together with local students in a bid to promote integration. Well-intentioned that may be, but it has turned out to be a bad decision because learning the Chinese language has proved a big obstacle.

We always say Hong Kong is an international city that embraces human rights and the equal and unalienable rights of all. We talk about the equal rights of every citizen in education, in employment, and under the law. But, is that the true picture?

These people have made enormous contributions to Hong Kong over the past decades, both socially and economically. But, we are not giving them the level of recognition they deserve. In fact, we have been treating them like outsiders.

To give them a true sense of belonging, we must allow their children to learn their native languages in school as well as study English and Chinese. We may even consider including these languages as an exam subject. On the other hand, the government can take the lead by hiring more members of these minority groups, to set a good example.

It's about optimising resources and handling issues with a fair and open mind. Giving our minority groups a chance is also giving Hong Kong a chance.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator