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Ethnic minorities in Hong Kong

'If you tell them you are Pakistani, they won't give you the flat': Finding a Hong Kong home is battle against prejudice for ethnic minorities

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 September, 2015, 5:03am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 September, 2015, 11:14am

Bushra Khaliq and her five-year-old daughter's 150 sq ft flat in Cheung Sha Wan did not come easy. She was rejected by numerous landlords just because of her skin colour or nationality.

"I found it really difficult to find a house as an ethnic minority," said Khaliq, 31, who came to Hong Kong from Pakistan in 2009 for an arranged marriage.

"They really discriminate against you. They will ask your nationality. If you tell them you are Pakistani, they will just say they don't want to give their flat to a Pakistani."

She said many landlords turned her away even after she showed them her passport, her job certificates and other related documents. Sometimes they rejected her immediately after seeing her skin colour, she added.

She spent about four months looking around before she found her current flat. She said before she found her previous flat, her friend's husband, who could speak Cantonese, needed to tell the landlord that she was not from Pakistan to gain the landlord's approval.

Khaliq is one of the 17 ethnic minority women of different ages and from different walks of life in Hong Kong featured in minority advocacy group Unison's photo exhibition She says.

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The exhibition, which runs from today until September 19 in Sham Shui Po, features the women's portraits and stories outlining their different and intricate relationships with the city they call home.

The language barrier was another difficulty for her to be accepted by Hong Kong society, Khaliq said.

When she first came to the city, Khaliq, who obtained an MBA from Mohammad Ali Jinnah University, in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, wanted to be a teacher or teaching assistant. She applied for jobs in almost all schools where the majority of students were from ethnic minorities.

She said some of the job descriptions stated that English and Urdu were language requirements, but when she went for interviews, she was immediately rejected after they found that she was unable to speak Chinese. She said many employers rejected non-Chinese speaking applicants not because Chinese was needed at work, but because they wanted to communicate with employees in Chinese.

"Even children in primary schools, they have an English subject and they can speak English, but they hesitate to communicate in English with others," said Khaliq, who is now a part-time interpreter for the judiciary.

"Hong Kong is a multinational city. If it avoids ethnic minority people, it will not be a good gesture. European people receive special VIP treatment.

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"For us, we are treated less favourably. Maybe our skin colour [says] we are from developing countries, so our education is not considered as up to the mark as in European countries."

This is why Khaliq has been insisting that her daughter, born in the city, should go to a mainstream Chinese-speaking kindergarten and next year a Chinese-speaking primary school, so she can benefit from the same curriculum taught to local Chinese children.

"This is the best age for them to learn cultures and languages, so if they want to do something in Hong Kong, they will not face the same difficulties that we are facing," she said.

Khaliq said NGOs and the government, instead of organising activities specifically for ethnic minorities or local Chinese, should hold more events such as parties, urban trips and other outings for both Chinese and non-Chinese, so that they could communicate and understand more about each other.

She said she believed in this way, ethnic minority people would be able to integrate into local society.