Ethnic minorities in Hong Kong

'Look good on paper' only: Hong Kong lawmaker calls for better government services for ethnic minorities who are violence victims

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 October, 2015, 12:02am
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 October, 2015, 5:10pm

Not even once have the government's video conferencing translation services been used since being set up in 2011 - evidence that translation services "look good on paper" but are woefully underutilised, a lawmaker said.

Coupled with a lack of cultural sensitivity on the part of government officials, it is exceedingly hard for victims of family violence in the local ethnic minority community to seek help, said Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, speaking after a legislative council subcommittee meeting on how to combat domestic and sexual violence.

Critics of the government also said immigration regulations "pose a threat to women" who come to Hong Kong on dependent visas, and deter them from reporting cases of family and sexual violence for fear of losing their right to stay in the city.

"On paper we seem to be on par [with other world cities] ... with interpretation services available in all government departments ... but in reality we are very backward," said Cheung.

Apart from the police, he said, the Social Welfare Department should be taking up a considerable share of translation work, but they only account for 4 per cent of telephone translation services used by the government, and just 8 per cent of face-to-face translation services.

It is extremely difficult for victims of abuse to come forward, and the ordeal is worse for ethnic minorities, said Linda Wong of Rain Lily, an organisation that helps battered women. Language barriers and a lack of cultural sensitivity, especially among police and frontline government social workers, add to hardships.

Serene Chan Chor-see accompanied a friend and the friend's friend - a woman who spoke only Punjabi - to a police station to report family violence, and experienced the frustrating process first-hand. "We were told we needed to pre-book a translator and give a formal statement," recalled Chan. "It was hard enough to get the lady to a police station in the first place."

Chan said they spent hours repeating the story four times, before being told that none was deemed "official" and that they had to come back again with an authorised translator.

Puja Kapai, an associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong, said that while translation services exist, they are not readily accessible.

Kapai's recent qualitative research comprised interviews with immigrant women in Britain and ethnic minority women in Hong Kong, and how they responded to or sought help in domestic violence cases. In Britain, a law protects dependent visa holders in cases of domestic violence, whereas in Hong Kong, no such law is in place, she said.

Cheung added, "Our immigration regulations pose a threat to women who come on a dependent visa. When they encounter domestic violence ... at home, their legal stay could be threatened if the husband withdraws his sponsorship."

He called on Hong Kong to follow Britain's example in setting up measures to protect domestic violence victims who are on dependent visas.

Cheung also called for mandatory training in cultural sensitivity and reviews of the effectiveness of such training as well as of translation services.