Yau Ma Tei attack is a wake-up call to do right by Hong Kong’s ethnic minorities
Albert Cheng says Sunday’s violence involving Nepali youth shone the light on a long-standing problem here: minority groups aren’t getting the opportunities they need to progress
Last Sunday, the police fired four shots to stop a machete attack on a Nepali man in Yau Ma Tei. Two assailants were shot, the other four fled. The incident has drawn massive public attention. The media, however, has largely focused on the superficial aspects. Questions centred mostly around whether the four shots were justified and why law and order in the area has deteriorated. The chronic lack of racial inclusion for ethnic minorities has been overlooked.
It is estimated that as many as 15,000 Nepalis live in Yau Ma Tei and Jordan. Most were born in Hong Kong and are mainly the second and third generations of the Gurkha troops who were stationed here. They hold Hong Kong identity cards and speak fluent Cantonese. Due to poor employment opportunities and lack of formal education, they often end up as security guards and construction workers. Some are unemployed; some have become drug addicts. Street fights break out at times, but they rarely cause disruption to residents.
Sunday’s clash was just the tip of the iceberg. Lately, problems associated with ethnic minorities have led to screaming media headlines. They have left an impression of a flood of bogus refugees from South Asia coming to Hong Kong. Some media exaggerate and overgeneralise the situation, misleading the public that ethnic minorities are causing social disorder. This is bigotry and will only reinforce biases.
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The contributions of ethnic minorities to Hong Kong have yet to be appreciated by mainstream society. They have played a key role in the city’s history. Today, most are trapped in manual jobs. Only a very few have made it to the top in the business and professional sectors. Yet, this is their home. According to the Basic Law, they are permanent residents and are equal before the law.
Racial discrimination is a ticking time bomb. In 2010, then chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen addressed the issue and promoted social integration. However, since 2012, the Leung Chun-ying government has been neglecting the needs and rights of ethnic minorities.
Minorities find the Chinese language the biggest barrier in their attempt to assimilate. Most of their families can ill afford to send their children to international schools. They are often stuck with local schools, where Chinese is mandatory. The current social inclusion policy encourages integrated education for students with different backgrounds and aptitude. Nevertheless, the practical needs of minorities have not been addressed. They are denied the opportunities for upward mobility.
As an international metropolis, Hong Kong is a pluralistic and diverse society. The SAR government must ensure equal opportunities for all. We can learn from the language policies in the US, Canada and other advanced countries. In Hong Kong, the mother tongues of ethnic minorities should be recognised in parallel with Chinese and English.
The government should set aside some civil servant openings for ethnic minorities, thus setting a good example for responsible employers to follow. It should also resume recruiting them as police officers. After all, officers often run into practical communication problems in their day-to-day contact with minorities. During the massive migration wave in the 1970s, the American, Canadian, New Zealand and Australian police forces recruited Hong Kong officers, while the British seconded Hong Kong officers to work in the UK, to help manage the huge population of newcomers. To prevent further tragedies, the Hong Kong government should pump more resources into strengthening communication with the ethnic minority communities and start recruiting them as frontline police officers.
The Correctional Services Department and other government units should also adopt the same policy. It could help break down divides and create fair opportunities for minority groups.
Racial equality will remain a flashy slogan without a well-thought-out plan for implementation. The Equal Opportunities Commission should take the initiative to knock on the doors of government bureaus and departments to ensure recommendations for racial inclusion do not just sit in their in-trays.
Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. firstname.lastname@example.org