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Bridging the Gap to Create Hope for the Future

By Senior Social Worker, Jeff Andrews.

Confusion, desperation, fear, and hopelessness—this is the experience of many newly arrived refugees while trying to find meaning and maintain dignity in a foreign land. It is a quest to thrive, not just to survive, in Hong Kong, a city that boasts 7.5 million residents.

In a city well known for its prosperous metropolis, it comes as a shock to learn that there are not many resources available to accommodate the number of displaced citizens that has been steadily growing year by year. There are an estimated 14,000 asylum seekers in Hong Kong, awaiting the determination of their claims for refugee status.

"It is quite a tough place to navigate, and that's why Christian Action’s Centre for Refugees is one of the first places that they come to." Jeff Andrews, manager of the non-profit organization, knows all too well the struggles and triumphs that come with working in such an environment.

New asylum seekers are first referred to Centre for Refugees by the government or the Welfare or Immigration departments; "We then help them navigate and understand the systems; we do an orientation program for them; and then eventually, we take care of their welfare and well-being until they leave Hong Kong."

With nearly three decades of work, Christian Action (first named Hong Kong Christian Aid to Refugees) began its involvement in the late 80s, with the first head office in the midst of the refugee camps of Kai Tak, where hundreds of Vietnamese refugees fled to Hong Kong by boat.

Today, with its home at Tsim Sha Tsui’s Chungking Mansions, Christian Action’s Centre for Refugees maintains its status as the only drop-in Centre in Hong Kong, serving almost 750 clients and providing a home away from home with core services that focus on education and training, psychosocial and casework services, outreach and community representation, and basic needs such as the soup kitchen and food distribution. They have been championing the community’s welfare, making strides, and pushing for better education. “We have supported hundreds of young children in going to school, adults with skills and classes, provided emergency housing to new arrivals, hired the first ever refugees allowed on a special work permit to serve the community, and changed the often biased and once negative image of refugees by creating unique and racial, cultural, and diversity initiatives that have made major positive community and societal change."

Centre for Refugees proudly upholds many unique, ground-breaking initiatives, such as the Chungking Mansions tours, aimed at breaking down cultural barriers. First-time visitors can experience the Five Senses Tour on culture, race, religion, heritage, and identity of the unique diversity of Chungking Mansions, as well as a walk through to the Centre for Refugees to observe the refugee experience.

The Centre also showcases the Human Library, a unique concept where refugees become ‘books’ and divulge their experiences to the local public. Alternatively, they host a refugee walk following a path through Tsim Sha Tsui to the mosque, to churches, to the Social Welfare Department, to the United Nations office, and lastly, a home visit where observers can understand the daily life of a refugee. Kitchen Away From Home showcases the refugee ladies cooking skills; through their dishes, they share their lives and give an idea of their experiences in Hong Kong and their motherland through the connection of food. There’s the LEAD program, where ladies are empowered with various skillsets to equip them to start a business in other countries, such as making clothes, jewelry, and other unique products.

Andrews, a born and raised Hong Konger, explains the ongoing issues faced daily by our refugee brothers and sisters.

"Currently, refugees still face a lack of comprehensive support in funding, receiving a minimal support of $3200 per person to cover rent, food, transport and utilities,” barely enough to get by in one of the most expensive cities in the world. “They’re also prohibited from seeking other sources of income as they aren’t allowed to work. And, of course, the vast amount of time it takes to process their cases, which can take decades. It will be a long wait for these individuals.”

"Clients energize me and my team every day because they are the most resilient, inspiring, and determined individuals. Every day they survive against all odds, considering they have so much trauma from fleeing persecution to coming to Hong Kong and adjusting to a very dynamic city that is fast-paced and not the most inclusive society."

Despite it all, there are moments to be encouraged by: the success stories of clients making the most of their time and shedding light on their situation, becoming outstanding employees in their workforce, and young refugee children being a shining example in school with their contributions to sports, music, and the arts.

Centre for Refugees also makes a difference by educating and impacting the local public as representatives of their community through their activities such as the walks, tours, and other engagements, "bridging the gaps between refugees, ethnic minorities, and the local Hong Kong Chinese community."

“I think in Hong Kong, the pandemic has taught us something: that we are all connected one way or the other, and we all get affected one way or the other, and if we start to embrace each other with dignity, so much positive impact can be made in this community."


Find out how to book Centre for Refugees Cultural Experiences here.

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