Hong Kong citizens are not indifferent to plight of refugees

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 September, 2015, 4:34pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 September, 2015, 4:34pm

The article by Tony Read ("Face the reality", September 9) seems to be rather unkind to our hapless government.

First, he says only 10,000 people are seeking refuge here whereas the scale of the problem in Europe seems "overwhelming", but is this correct? Ten thousand refugees in a place with a population of 7.3 million is actually a higher percentage than the 523,000 refugees reported to be in the EU, which has a population of more than 500 million.

Even the current influx into Europe is unlikely to change the fact that we appear to be more overwhelmed than they are.

Hong Kong may do its best to dissuade refugees from coming, and may not treat them particularly well when they do come, but history suggests that when it comes to the crunch, Hong Kong will readily demonstrate the humanitarian response which Mr Read says our administration lacks.

I seem to remember then-governor Murray MacLehose speaking to the UN during the Vietnamese refugee crisis and pointing out that refugees arriving here did not land on a beach hundreds of miles from the nearest reporter, where they could be pushed back out to sea or left to starve.

In Hong Kong, he pointed out, they were sailing into the middle of one of the busiest ports on earth, and none were turned away. As I recall, we even ended up paying most of the costs of looking after them because funding from the UN refugee agency did not materialise.

The claim which I found most egregious was that the core humanitarian values of European culture have driven ordinary people in Europe to show an outpouring of support for innocent victims of injustice, whereas Hong Kong people have little sympathy for the refugees in our midst.

Only our younger generation has a sense of social justice, apparently.

Dare I suggest that the European response has more to do with a single heart-wrenching photograph than with core humanitarian values, and Hongkongers of all ages have been similarly moved by that photograph.

Hong Kong people might not be planning to invite a refugee round to share the Mid-Autumn Festival feast but, when it matters, they will do the right thing.

Alan Loynd, Lai Chi Kok