Hong Kong’s refugees ignored in pandemic relief measures

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Already swept to the fringes of society, the needs of refugees continue to go unaddressed in the government’s pandemic efforts, when they could use it the most.

Photo: Two children of the Snowden refugees (left: Sethumdi Kellapatha, right: Dinath Kellapatha) sit in front of grafittied walls during Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests, September 2019. Courtesy of Supun Kellaptha.

While impressive in size, Hong Kong’s unprecedented relief package of $137.5 billion has not included measures to support refugees, one of Hong Kong’s most vulnerable populations.

An asylum-seeking family of four report that pre-existing difficulties, such as the acquisition of necessities, have become even more difficult due to the virus outbreak.

“In the initial months of the COVID-19 lockdown the shelves in grocery stores were often empty and we could not buy certain basic foods we needed…prices are now about double what they were before the pandemic,” said a member of the family.

Mr Robert Tibbo, a Canadian national practising law in Hong Kong who also represents the family mentioned above, adds that two more of his clients, including a family of five, share similar experiences. He condemns the SAR government for its lack of action to help the city’s most vulnerable.

“Already excluded and existing at the fringes of Hong Kong society, food scarcity and inflation during the virus outbreak has further pushed asylum seekers deeper into destitution,” Mr Tibbo argued.

Ms Jonnet Kudera Bernal, Manager at Christian Action – Humanitarian Services (HK), emphasises COVID-19’s negative impact:

“While the Hong Kong Government’s proposed stimulus measures aim to offer some relief to various sectors, it has unfortunately overlooked specific support for the NGO sectors who must continue their battle in serving the most marginalized communities.”

She poses the HK$10,000 handout as an example: while promised to Hong Kong’s adults, asylum seekers and refugees do not apply as they hold neither HKIDs nor any official legal status. 

Other obstacles such as language barriers make it difficult to reach up to date health information; lack of accessibility to the internet also makes it “almost impossible” for students to continue schooling.

“Refugees were already isolated before the pandemic,” she lamented, “and are now pushed even further into the shadows…”

Supun Kellaptha, one of the Snowden refugees living in Hong Kong, and his three children. 24 March 2019 courtesy of Marc-Andre Seguin.

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