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HK Magazine Archive

Polly McGovern Wants You to Know About Refugees

There are around 11,000 refugees in Hong Kong. “We Are Here” seeks to raise awareness of this community. 

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 15 June, 2016, 6:00pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2016, 5:11pm

“We Are Here” is an independent multimedia art project founded by Polly McGovern, a former video producer and Katherine Sparrow, an artist and ESL instructor, which seeks to raise awareness for the refugee community in Hong Kong.We spoke with founder Polly McGovern about the refugee community in the city. 

What inspired you to take on this project? We set up “We Are Here” to raise awareness about some of the difficulties faced by refugees in Hong Kong and to counteract the often negative media reports regarding this issue in the local media. Whilst Hong Kong is a safe city for refugees, it is certainly not a welcoming city. There is a lot of racism and many residents are unaware of why refugees have come to Hong Kong. We want people to realize that refugees are often educated, professional people whose lives are at risk. They can offer a lot to a community.

"They get by on very little and go for years and sometimes decades not knowing what their fate will be. It is a life in limbo."

How does this art project work? Katherine has made a painting for each of the participants in the project, based on their cultural identities. I have then taken a photograph of the participant with their painting and made short videos about their lives. On our launch night [on June 16], one of the participants will also be exhibiting some of his artwork and also perform African drumming and singing.

What’s the status of the refugee community in Hong Kong? There are approximately 11,000 people seeking protection in Hong Kong. Less than 150 asylum seekers have been granted refugee status; most are forced to wait for years for their cases to be processed. During this period, the government pays $1,500 per month directly to a landlord for accommodation and also provides $1,200 in food coupons. They are not granted the right to work and struggle to survive. They are also not able to leave Hong Kong until their case has been determined. The life of a refugee in Hong Kong is a difficult one. They get by on very little and go for years and sometimes decades not knowing what their fate will be. It is a life in limbo.

What do you hope to achieve with this project? We hope to raise awareness for the refugee community. Firstly that they exist, need help and public support; and secondly, that they should be given the right to work. The government should be encouraged to change legislation so that processing times will be shorter for refugees.