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Ethnic minorities in Hong Kong

Shortfalls found in public services for Hong Kong’s ethnic minorities

Government departments offering help on things such as job hunting, welfare, interpretation and integration were asked to regularly review and improve the effectiveness of their work, following findings of a survey

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 March, 2018, 2:22pm
UPDATED : Monday, 12 March, 2018, 11:42pm

Researchers have called for more funding for NGOs to help Hong Kong’s ethnic minorities better integrate into society, after a government survey which looked into the effectiveness of public services for such groups revealed a number of shortfalls.

Government departments providing services most needed by ethnic minorities – job hunting, family and child welfare, interpretation and integration – were also urged to regularly review and improve the effectiveness of their work.

As of 2016, around 84,900 people – 1.2 per cent of the total population – of South Asian origin lived in Hong Kong, most whom were Indians, Nepalese and Pakistanis.

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A report on their economic situation published last month indicated 23 per cent of ethnic minority residents were living in poverty, higher than the 14.7 per cent for the overall population.

With the group expected to grow in size – in the past decade it increased at an annual rate of 5.5 per cent compared to just 0.7 per cent for the whole of Hong Kong – integration into mainstream society and the help rendered is more important than ever.

The government’s Commission on Poverty tasked Policy 21, a research unit, and the University of Hong Kong in December 2016 to study the awareness and satisfaction level of ethnic minorities towards the public services they needed the most.

A total of 179 stakeholders, including academics, staff from NGOs, concern groups and government departments took part in a series of interviews and group discussions.

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A number of shortfalls were identified – most ethnic minorities felt that language courses offered by the Home Affairs Department were “pitched at the very basic level necessary for ‘survival’”.

Others complained that job referrals by the Labour Department were mainly for manual work on construction sites, and were not diverse enough to cater to those who had a better education.

Some were also not aware of services provided by the Employees Retraining Board, which led to a low participation rate in such courses by ethnic minorities.

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Researchers put forward 12 recommendations. They urged the government to allocate more resources for NGOs to better use their networks to build mutual trust with ethnic minorities.

Performance indicators should also be reviewed regularly, while government departments and public bodies were urged to step up coordination and publicity to make such services known to the needy.

Shalini Mahtani, co-founder and chair of the Zubin Foundation, a social policy think tank and charity, said Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s government was doing a better job than previous administrations in helping ethnic minorities but more was needed.

“One thing the government should do is reduce discrimination, as a leader and role model for society. For example, in the MTR, there are no posters or advertisements featuring ethnic minorities, even though we are part of the population.”

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She also suggested the government could “make it mandatory for civil servants to go through minority training, to know more about the ethnic minorities they serve”.

The foundation plans to launch a hotline in May to help minorities access information on government services. It also has a project called Diversity List, which has helped at least 12 ethnic minority residents to get onto government advisory committees.

Jeffrey Andrews, a social worker for Christian Action’s Centre for Refugees, pointed to inadequacies in language training.

“Cantonese is important for minorities to find a job in Hong Kong but most of the training provided either by the government or NGOs is not enough. The certificates we obtained are not recognised by employers,” he said.

“Teachers are important. The courses are just taught by someone who speaks Cantonese but is not a professional teacher. I don’t blame the teachers. I think the system should be improved to have more teachers who have skills to teach Cantonese as a second language.”

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Andrews, the first registered ethnic minority social worker in Hong Kong, also said it was important for the government to help reduce discrimination.

“The government never stands up when minorities are described as ‘lazy’ or ‘criminals’ in the media and they should say something. Discrimination also includes the impression that we like to do construction [work] or be bodyguards. We want diversity, to contribute back to society.”

Phyllis Cheung, executive director of advocacy group Hong Kong Unison, said: “The report assessed whether the current measures work; more importantly the government should tackle the major cause of social problems – Chinese-language teaching and learning of ethnic minority students.”

She said Unison believed the services should be brought into the mainstream so that “ethnic minorities can approach regular social service agencies” rather than relying on Home Affairs Department centres.

“Cultural sensitivity training should be provided to frontline staff of social service agencies and service providers so that the needs of ethnic minorities can be catered for. There should also be EM-related training in social work programmes and courses so that workers are prepared to serve ethnic minorities.”