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Asylum seekers in Asia

How a Hong Kong asylum seeker turned pastor transformed his life

Roy Njuabe was forced to flee his native Cameroon because of persecution. He now works to help Hong Kong’s thousands of asylum seekers build a new life here

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 March, 2018, 10:30am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 March, 2018, 10:36pm

Roy Njuabe, 40, a pastor at a Hong Kong church and a father of two, would not have survived had he not fled to the city as an asylum seeker in 2005.

He now works with people facing a similar predicament at Vine Community Services Limited (VCSL), a non-profit organisation established in 2012, which started as a lifeline for the refugee community offered by The Vine Church, an independent Christian place of worship in Wan Chai.

“To work as a refugee pastor, you are working with broken people, people who have no hope, no dream in their life,” Njuabe said. “You listen to stories that even transform your own life.”

Born to an English-speaking family in Cameroon in sub-Saharan Africa, Njuabe was forced to leave his country aged 27, when the human rights activist’s life was threatened by persecution because of his outspokenness.

His parents arranged his trip to Hong Kong, since the city was one of the few safe destinations visa-free for Cameroon passport holders. He spent time in Shanxi in mainland China and Bangkok in Thailand before settling down in Hong Kong at the end of 2008. He married a local woman.

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Njuabe received a bachelor’s degree in theology from the Lutheran Church of Hong Kong through a scholarship, and was employed by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hong Kong. He attended summer school at the University of Oxford, studying issues affecting refugees. His classmates included lawyers, border control officers and staff from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

But life as a refugee was tough in Hong Kong at first.

“It was in Hong Kong that I first knew I was a black person, that I have colour on my skin,” Njuabe said.

First educated at the University of Dschang in West Cameroon, where he received a bachelor’s degree in zoology, Njuabe initially could not get a job in Hong Kong. He planned to move to the US but was convinced to stay by his wife, Lisa. He lived on support from family back in Africa, friends and members of the church, where he helped serve the local refugee community.

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There are currently about 10,000 people seeking protection in Hong Kong, from countries such as Sri Lanka, Burundi and Somalia, according to non-profit human rights organisation Justice Centre Hong Kong. After securing the status of a refugee from the government, people can work if they find employers willing to hire them.

Njuabe is now working with charities to help the refugee and asylum seeker community in Hong Kong.

Since 2016, his employer has been involved with a local Easter event in Ma Wan, a small island near Lantau Island with a population of about 15,000.

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Sian Loh, coordinator of the Ma Wan Easter egg hunt, said they expected 4,000 participants this year for the event on March 30, compared with 3,500 last year. Money raised will go to VCSL to help refugees and asylum seekers.

About 20 refugees and asylum seekers will also attend to perform and play games with children on Tung Wan Beach.