Do not misrepresent refugees

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 June, 2013, 3:35am

Unfortunately, Victor Fung Keung, in his article "Blame the British colonial legacy for Hong Kong's racial intolerance" (June 4), fails to elaborate his argument adequately enough to prove the link between colonial rule and high levels of racial intolerance in Hong Kong.

However, what's worse, his damaging reference to asylum seekers in his final paragraph undermines his very call for Hong Kong people "to work harder to become less racist".

He writes that "some African political asylum seekers live in Hong Kong on United Nations subsidies. Since they aren't allowed to work here, some can be seen drinking beer at any time of the day or night on the streets of Sham Shui Po and elsewhere."

He is right to point out that the inability to have access to livelihood opportunities and be self-sufficient, such as through the right to work, has a severe detrimental impact on asylum seekers as they await the status of their claim, a process that can drag on for several years.

Asylum seekers hardly "live on United Nations subsidies". They are barely able to survive with the minimal welfare assistance given to them - which is not calibrated to the costs of living in Hong Kong and is far too low to ensure that they can live in dignity during their stay here.

This intolerable situation also effectively forces them into poverty and the very situation of dependency for which they are often unfairly criticised, as well as turning to, in some cases, negative coping mechanisms. Moreover, the sum of these factors bears a negative impact on their social inclusion and sense of self-worth.

Combating racism in a society requires more than punishing acts of racially motivated violence and overt forms of discrimination; it requires us to fight negative stereotyping as well.

The media has a strong role to play in influencing public perceptions and therefore has a responsibility to make sure that coverage is balanced, accurate and does not treat the outlier as the norm.

The truth is that the reality of being a refugee is inconceivable to most of us.

Asylum seekers and refugees have overcome great hardship and suffering and are brave, courageous survivors of some of the most egregious forms of human rights violations.

It would be good to see this aspect of asylum seekers' and refugees' lives portrayed more.

Victoria Wisniewski Otero, Tai Hang