• Thu
  • Dec 18, 2014
  • Updated: 10:52am
CommentInsight & Opinion

Hong Kong should help vulnerable mainland immigrants, not denigrate them

Linda To says society should do more to help mainland women who migrate to Hong Kong as they are already socially and financially vulnerable, without having to deal with local prejudice

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 August, 2014, 4:01am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 August, 2014, 4:01am

A recent 12-episode TVB drama titled Shades of Life included a story about a new mainland immigrant who faces ill treatment and discrimination in Hong Kong. On arrival, she was accused of smuggling milk powder. Later in the story, her new neighbours scolded her and her daughter simply for watching TV.

The drama raised heated debate here. The day after it was broadcast, the Office of the Communications Authority received some 1,500 complaints about it. Nasty comments were also posted on social media, saying the show humiliated Hongkongers with its poor portrayal of them.

Many said the problem lay with the mainland Chinese, whom some have disparagingly described as "locusts". Their litany of grouses include that mainland visitors use Hong Kong's resources, and their shopping causes shortages of milk powder, cosmetics, medicines and more; their misbehaviour - such as allowing their children to urinate in public places - is offensive, and they pay no respect to our core values and the local culture, such as queuing to pay for services.

These hostile feelings are increasingly common.

In the past 10 years, some 500,000 people have come to reside in Hong Kong from mainland China via one-way permits. Each year, millions more come here as tourists. Many Hongkongers are finding it very hard to cope with this demographic change. Without a well-planned government strategy to ease the situation, conflict between Hongkongers and mainlanders is becoming more pronounced. It's no wonder that the TV show produced such an outpouring of frustration.

However, we need to learn to see from other perspectives.

While there have been cases of mainlanders causing trouble, the majority of them do not. More importantly, the TV show reflected the real-life experiences of some new immigrant women.

In the past 10 years, more than 350,000 mainland women have moved to Hong Kong, and many have faced discrimination in different aspects of their life here, from job interviews to grocery shopping.

For 10 years, I have led the HER Fund, which advances the rights of women and girls through fundraising, grant-making and philanthropic education. Some of the organisations we fund provide a hotline service and organise mutual support groups for new immigrant women. They also engage in rights advocacy work.

From working with such organisations, we know that these women long to integrate into Hong Kong society and adopt the local language, style of dressing and cultural habits. They are happy to have Hongkongers as friends and feel grateful to those who lend them a hand.

However, due to our current tensions with mainland migrants, they are often afraid to disclose their identity in public places. Because of their mainland accent, they stay silent so that people will not identify them as new immigrants. "Even when I was just asking how much something cost in the wet market, one hawker became annoyed and scolded me," one of these women told me.

Even those who are more assertive and aware of their rights spoke of a similar worry. At campaign events, many of them preferred not to show their faces and wore a mask instead, because they were afraid that their identity as a new immigrant would cause their children to suffer discrimination in school.

The situation is worse for women who suffer abuse by their Hong Kong husbands. As housewives, many are socially isolated and financially dependent on their husbands. Discriminated against and without welfare support, they are vulnerable to emotional distress.

In the past, there have been cases of family tragedies where new immigrant women who were victims of domestic violence killed themselves and their children, because they felt they had no one to turn to for help.

We need to help them by giving them information about women's shelters and hotlines, where they can find solace by joining groups that provide peer support.

It is disappointing that despite their great need, the government has provided no specific resources or support services to new immigrant women to help them adjust and integrate into society. All the current social services, like adjustment classes, vocational training and counselling, are run by private initiatives, like the ones that HER Fund supports. These are not necessarily sustainable as the funds that support them are mostly given on a project basis.

As the number of immigrant women continues to grow, the Hong Kong government needs to invest in programmes to help them.

Hong Kong residents need to stop the discrimination and labelling of the marginalised. New immigrant women are Hong Kong residents. They are contributing to our society as caretakers of their family and children, nurturing the young generation of our society.

They deserve better treatment and their human rights should be safeguarded. Together, we can ensure that this happens. And we can start by respecting the immigrants in our own neighbourhoods.

Linda To Kit-lai is the executive director and a founding member of HER Fund, with over 20 years of work experience for the advancement of women's rights

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This article is now closed to comments

DinGao
Since its inception, Hong Kong has absorbed many hundreds of thousands of "mainland immigrants" and most of them were happy to learn Cantonese even if they struggled to do so.
Why the more recent arrivals should think themselves any different from their refugee predecessors I know not. Are they somehow superior?
As to former "British overlords", no non-Chinese police officer was allowed to continue in service until he had passed a colloquial Cantonese exam following a three month full-time course.
Other government official volunteered for this course in large numbers and paying private citizens were also admitted.
I will admit that Mandarin is far more pleasing to the ear than Bak Wa but it is spoken on a daily basis not only in HK, Macau and Kwangtung province but in most of southern China and all over the world where other Chinese have made their homes.
Moves to suppress its use in the PRC have and will fail.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
Dai Muff
Many Hong Kongers feel that mainland tourists and new immigrants are part of a determined effort by authorities to force Hong Kong's assimilation. You may or may not agree that there is such a political agenda, but you can't really expect people to love the gun that they see as being used to shoot them.
Hong Kong's social progress and level of civility has been hard won since the 1980s, but it doesn't take many people to jump a queue before you hit a tipping point and the rest realise there's no point them queuing either. We were happy that "No spitting" signs seemed a quaint relic of the past, but are horrified that we now need "No defecation" signs. You can't just yell "No discrimination" and avoid entirely referencing the BEHAVIOURS that frustrate people.
And, as importantly, women are not the only victims here. That is standard blinkered victim-feminist thinking. Your argument against exclusiveness excludes men.
sipsip1238
Ever thought that you refused to learn the language because you're actually not intelligent enough to learn the language?
So you expect the people in the city you live in to learn your language, but if a westerner comes to Shanghai or Beijing, you don't learn English in order to speak with them?
You'll be like that lady who I saw at one of the street markets in Seoul who kept screaming at the old storekeeper in mandarin but then had a shocked look on her face when the storekeeper ignored her.
paddyjr@gmail.com
Your attitude stinks of condescension. I am happy with helping new mainland immigrants but to be quite honest, you are giving me a pretty good reason not to.
ohyeahar
It’s very hard to defend mainlanders when everywhere you look, they’re doing the very things that we stereotypically accuse them of.
woteva6891@hotmail.com
Linda To take your kids to Ocean Park or Disney Land and watch your views about Mainland Immigrants or Tourists do a 360
Its just that some of the mainlanders are worse than animals, when they put your loved ones in danger of being crushed by crazed mainlanders then maybe ul get the picture
zhelu1985@live.com
As a "mainland immigrant" myself, I refuse to learn "the local language". Your British overlords felt no need to learn it and neither do I. It is the duty of the local population to learn the national language, not the other way around.
What makes the locals think they're better than other Chinese?
It is their impressive average height?
Their aristocratic fair skin?
Their fair sounding local dialect that's so pleasing to the human ear?
mercedes2233
If we are not better, why are you joining us?
Go ahead and stick with not learning the local dialect. You will just handicap yourself and alienate those you deal with. And serve you right too. If we are to try and help recent mainland immigrants, attitudes such as yours will not endear you to anybody local.
My grandparents and parents were immigrants to HK after all China's troubles, speaking a range of dialects including Putonghua, Shanghainese, Fukienese, and 中山。 They all picked up Cantonese, and assimilated successfully. You probably will not.
5403cbd1-4178-4b9e-b9dd-74380a320969
I totally agree. "Remember that you too were aliens," is what is written in the Word of God. We should help the widows, the poor, the children and the alien in our society. For you don't know who their children will become-- God lifts up the humble but opposes the proud. As a second-generation American, working for a prestigious company, I am grateful to my countrymen who blessed my grandparents and my father with kindness and offered them opportunities just as they did to those of their own kind and culture.

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