A rights group is taking the issue of Hong Kong's "lost generation" of ethnic minorities to the United Nations, saying de facto racial segregation robbed them of the chance to learn Chinese and get good jobs.
The campaign manager for Unison, Annie Li Man, and ethnic-Indian student Jeffrey Andrews will take their case to the United Nations committee on economic, social and cultural rights in Geneva this weekend.
"We are the lost generation," Andrews said yesterday.
"We never got to learn Chinese which greatly affected our career prospects."
After a struggle, he won a place in the Caritas Institute of Higher Education and will graduate in September with two classmates as Hong Kong's first locally trained and accredited social workers.
Andrews, who grew up in Hong Kong, speaks fluent English and Cantonese but cannot read or write Chinese.
He went to a secondary school designated for ethnic minorities where he was forced to choose French as his second language. Interaction with the Chinese students was minimal.
"The Chinese-speaking students took up the upper floors in the building, and the non-Chinese students would be on the lower floors," he said. "I was scared to even go up there ... I never sat next to a Chinese person, ever [in school]."
He graduated in Form Five with poor grades, but, with the encouragement and help of Unison staff, he enrolled in a one-year hotel management course at IVEY Business School. The chance to sign up to the social work course came in 2011.
"I wanted to be a social worker because without their help, I wouldn't be here today. So I want to do the same for others. Hopefully this time, we can express our concerns and make a difference in policies at the UN," he said.
He is also working with refugees at Christian Action.
Former lawmaker and barrister Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee, who chairs the Unison board, said not interacting with Chinese students damaged the growth and development of students and ultimately society.