Sunday, May 02, 2004

'We deal with the facts, not with rumours'

When you teach adults it is very important to remember that they are not children. Adults have a wealth of prior learning and life experience and this should never be underestimated in the classroom.

Last week I based a lesson for the advanced English class around a news article. It was about a hunger strike by asylum seekers in Hong Kong's immigration prison. The article contained quotes and opinions of several different groups (Amnesty, the UNHCR, HK Human rights monitor etc) and I hit upon the idea of holding an in-class press conference.

I was a little nervous about whether it would work but I had forgotten that I was teaching a class of very politically aware people, most with much more experience than me in journalism, politics and activism in general.

The star of the class was a guy from Cameroon who was acting as the head of the UNHCR in Hong Kong. One of the best bits went something like this...

Ethiopian: Kelly Chan from South China Morning Post. My question is for the head of the UNHCR. Ms C, I have heard rumours that the UNHCR is taking too long to look at the claims of asylum seekers in Hong Kong.

Cameroonian: Thank you for your question. Our office deals in facts, not rumours.

Ethiopian: But isn't it true that many asylum seekers in Hong Kong have to wait one or more years for their claims to be processed? I have heard of people who have been in Hong Kong for almost a year without even having one interview.

Cameroonian: What you must understand is that our office does not act in isolation. Believe me, we are deeply concerned about the needs of asylum seekers but we have to consider our responsiblity to those above us. As you know, some asylum seekers are opportunistic economic immigrants and we have to screen cases very carefully.
I regret that these processes take a long time but everything we do must be in conjunction with our head office in Geneva. There is no other way.

This was all said with absolute conviction and the class was in stitches... especially me :)