“I have no place to stay,” refugee says

By Melissa Tsang

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Clothing donations at Refugee Union, Sai Ying Pun, Sheuang Wan, Hong Kong.

HONG KONG—It is a 160-square-foot some room without beds while prevailing living utensils, such as toothbrushes and toothpastes placing quietly in the bathroom. Dozens of DVDs piled in disarray aside a garbage heap in the corner of the sitting room, among which the most eye-catching one is “The Shawshank Redemption.”

Malee, a 50-year-old refugee from Sri Lanka, was bending over the ground like chickens looking for bits of corn, picking suitable clothes among hillock clothing donations. Unlike general impression of Africans, with shining tooth foiling their dark skin, Malee’s tooth looks prone to dark yellow.

“I have no place to stay,” she blurted the words expressionlessly.

Wearing a plaid T-shirt and a milky white obviously unfitting trousers, Malee was pleased to find another pants in the piling clothing. She immediately switched it in bathroom, then, walked out briskly. It was apparent that the trousers fit her much more than the previous one.

Here is Refugee Union Hong Kong, a successfully registered society, locating at Sai Ying Pun, Sheung Wan. Though living in Hong Kong more than 14 years, this was the first time Malee came. “My friend told me there’s food and clothes here,” she said.

Searching for food and shelter is a part of her daily life. An amount of 1,500 Hong Kong dollars accommodation subsidies per month did not help to tackle her situation.

In fact, the accommodation problem of Hong Kong refugees has once become a widely reported issue.

On January 29, 2015, a 33-year-old male refugee from Sri Lanka was burned to death while staying in his renting “iron sheet” house due to inadequate safety precautions.

Refugees have been finding homes in isolated areas, mainly distributing in Yuen Long, Yau Tsim Mong and Sham Shui Po, according to the website of Vision First, a NGO serves refugees.

“The cheap rent attracts refugees to old areas because they are provided insufficient government assistance to rent legal housing,” said Venisa, a volunteer in Vision First.

Venisa is also a refugee, as a helper in Vision First, she has the opportunity to spend time at the office. But refugees are not allowed to work in Hong Kong, thus Venisa is not paid, and as well, she faces the fiscal problem as other refugees do.

Venisa has a three-year-old daughter. The tuition for the little girl has become her biggest concern at present. The predicament remains the same among all the refugees who has a child in Hong Kong. “We don’t have money, then no school,” Venisa said.

She also pointed out that the work-banning policy would compel refugees to work at small restaurants.

Some employers tend to hire people who require lower salaries, and refugees are willing to do that, she said.

According to statistics from Immigration Department, currently there are about 13,000 registered refugees in Hong Kong. The government outsources relevant subsidies work to International Social Service, the organization accountable for dispatching living supplies for refugees.

“They give us coupon, but usually the food is hard to eat,” Venisa said.

After changing trousers, Malee began to eat with her hands. “I like Hong Kong, because in my country this will be robbed or stolen, but I don’t have to worry about it here,” Malee said, meanwhile she pointed to the accessories putting on her neck and wrists.

Malee’s daughter, 22, is still in Sri Lanka. If she misses me, she would give me a call, Malee said. Malee wishes to go to Canada or Australia one day. “Everything is on the way,” she said.

Finishing eating, Malee planned to go to Chong Qing mansion, a place famous for cheap food and accommodation in Hong Kong. Malee said she could find “somewhere” to live there.

The most aspiring activity for Malee every week is to go to churches. “Thank God, it gives all to me,” she said.

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About Melissa Tsang

It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.
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