Operation Santa Claus

I face discrimination in Hong Kong every day, but I’m no longer scared, African refugee says

Celeste is recovering from a traumatic past and adjusting to her new life with help from Justice Centre Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 November, 2016, 4:25pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 November, 2016, 9:08pm

“It’s everywhere. It’s on the bus, in the market, on the streets ...”

Celeste, a 35-year-old African refugee, was speaking of the discrimination she encountered daily in Hong Kong, two years after escaping the political situation back home.

Celeste, who uses a pseudonym, fled with her two young children in search of a place that would offer them security. Then she found herself caught in another form of insecurity.

“No one will come sit next to me on the bus even if it is crowded. People who stand next to me cover their nose,” the former businesswoman said. “Back at home, our culture is to welcome everyone in need. I knew some Chinese people back in my country, they were friendly.”

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Celeste was one of 17,000 to have lodged non-refoulement, or protection, claims with the Immigration Department from March 2014 to May this year.

She was one of the lucky ones who gained asylum seeker status; the success rate over the years is less than 1 per cent, according to Isaac Shaffer, the Justice Centre Hong Kong’s protection claimant services manager.

The centre, a beneficiary of last year’s Operation Santa Claus, the fundraiser organised by the South China Morning Post and RTHK, said the funding had helped them set up more than 644 appointments with clients like Celeste since May.

Shaffer, who is responsible for preparing the legal statements of refugees at the human rights NGO, said it was important to keep the psychosocial support service running in the centre as refugees needed more than just a recognised status.

“Imagine every day you have to deal with practical problems such as getting food to eat, but at the same time you are still recovering from a traumatic experience in the past while having to worry about what will happen in the future. Even the most robust person would find it tough,” Shaffer said.

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Celeste recalled that she was one of those who did not realise she “wasn’t normal” and needed psychosocial support until she met the centre’ s psychotherapist.

“When I came new, I didn’t know that I was sick. I didn’t talk to anybody. I [kept everything] to myself and thought I did not need to talk my problems.”

Celeste was assessed and found to be suffering anxiety and depression, but she has recovered with the help of the centre.

“It was my light in my darkest days,”she said. “Even my children’s first Christmas gift here in Hong Kong was from Justice Centre.”

What bothers Celeste most now is how she can give her two children a better life. The centre is currently helping her to apply for a transport subsidy so she can take her children to their primary school.

“Now I am not scared any more. Whenever someone acts in a discriminating way against me, I just ignore it,” she said.