Discrimination is a problem faced by a quarter of newly arrived immigrants from the mainland despite a harmonious living environment among Hongkongers, a two-year survey shows.
Respondents reported experiencing discrimination in one form or another, including rude and unfair treatment, rejection and insults.
Researchers from the University of Hong Kong concluded that harmony in one's immediate environment - the family and neighbourhood - did not necessarily reflect social cohesion.
"The family concord index is very high, and neighbours are willing to take care of each other," said Professor Gabriel Leung Cheuk-wai, head of community medicine at HKU's School of Public Health.
"But [harmony at] the family and neighbourhood levels may not extend to the societal level, as reflected by negative factors such as discrimination."
More than 60 per cent of the 20,500 respondents scored 75 out of 100 in an assessment on harmony within the family. Half of them said people in their neighbourhood got along well and were willing to help one another.
But among the 1,000 migrants who had been here for 10 years or less, a quarter told of having experienced discrimination.
Yeung Sam-hong, 35, who has lived in Hong Kong for six years, said the bias against new immigrants had got worse.
In the last two years, she said she had often overheard comments that mainlanders had relocated to the city to take advantage of Hongkongers, especially through the government's HK$6,000 cash handout or financial aid from the Community Care Fund. "I felt very angry and upset," Yeung said.
She recalled a social worker's rude outburst four years ago, when she asked about her application for public housing.
"The social worker said to me, 'You new immigrants want to find a house and live a comfortable life once you come to Hong Kong and do not try to get a job. Hongkongers worked very hard in the past, but you cannot endure any hardship'," Yeung said.
"I tried to explain that I could not find a job because I had to take care of my children, and burst out crying."
Sze Lai-shan, of the church-backed Society for Community Organisation, said: "[Discrimination] gives them a lot of stress in their lives … They will not have a sense of belonging to the city if people do not accept them."