Hong Kong's refugees feel the love this Christmas

Times can be hard on refugees in an unfamiliar culture and climate but an initiative by a Hong Kong school aims to make them feel more at home

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 December, 2013, 11:19am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 December, 2013, 11:55am

For many, the Christmas holiday season is a time to celebrate with loved ones but for the refugee community in Hong Kong, it can be a stark reminder of how far they are from home.

For David, a former computer engineer for the Yemeni military, life changed forever when he was forced to flee his home country with his family two years ago.

Anti-government forces in Yemen, inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, had targeted David (not his real name) because of his ties to the then-government under former president Ali Abdallah Saleh.

“They would come to my home and threaten to kill me or kidnap my son because I worked for the government,” said David on Tuesday.

Along with his wife and four young children, David hurriedly packed a few essential items and arrived at Chep Lap Kok airport on November 20, 2011.

“All the embassies in Yemen were closed and Hong Kong was the only place we could go without a visa,” he said.

““Everything we get is donated and every year, it gets bigger but we can always use more toys, clothes and food.”
King George V teacher Kirrily Foley

Three days after arriving, the family lodged an application for asylum with the United Nations refugee agency.

“When we first arrived, it was very difficult because it was so much change and so different,” David, aged 47, said.

“But now, the children [aged between 7 and 17] have friends because they are going to school and life is better.”

Last December, the family attended a special Christmas party that King George V school in Ho Man Tin organised for the city’s refugee community and they are looking forward to this year’s event, which will be held on Saturday.

“I am Muslim but I enjoy Christmas; after all, we are all people from Adam and Eve,” David said.

About 250 refugees and asylum-seekers – many of them under 18 years old – have been invited with many from North Africa and Nepal.

The annual gathering, which started almost ten years ago, happens thanks to generous contributions from the local community, said King George V teacher Kirrily Foley and head of the school’s charity committee.

“Everything we get is donated and every year, it gets bigger but we can always use more toys, clothes and food,” she said.

Warm clothes were especially needed as the mercury dropped this week, she said.

“That was a really big thing for the refugees last year because they don’t get money for clothes,” Foley said.

“They just have such a rough time in Hong Kong, so the party is about giving them something positive and for KGV, it’s about raising awareness and the plight of refugees in Hong Kong and for our students to think beyond themselves.”

Every family gets a food hamper and the children get a present from Santa. The school teams up with two local NGOs, Christian Action and Inner City Ministries, who both work closely with refugees.