Thursday, October 14, 2004

Ants and elephants

It was going to happen sooner or later. The number of asylum seekers (and other assorted visitors to Hong Kong) sleeping near the Star Ferry pier in Tsim Sha Tsui has been growing for some time.

Local tabloid newspapers have run articles claiming that wealthy African businessman are sleeping homeless just because they are stingy. I doubt that this is true but it's indicative of the amount of sympathy that exists for the people who stay there.

Yesterday morning there was a big operation to catch people who have overstayed their visas. I was told that about 100 police descended on the area around the cultural centre at 5am in the morning. Daisy later explained to me the Cantonese expression 'many ants can kill an elephant' - 'Your clients are very big. Some Hong Kong police officers are very small'.

As I was serving breakfast at work several hours later, there was a call from one of our clients who was detained in the Tsim Sha Tsui police station. He was being held there with seven other regular visitors to our centre.

After a day full of drama, three of the eight were released after I went to the station to identify them as asylum seekers. I have no idea why. The remainder were transferred to the immigration detention centre (I was corrected by an officer when I called it the immigration prison). They will stay there until a decision is reached on their case for refugee status.

Everyone else has been in a bad mood - sorry for their friends and worried that they too may be caught. Hong Kong police generally leave asylum seekers alone when they see that they have a paper from the 'oo en aich ce er' (think French) but they have the power to detain them because they have usually overstayed their visas.

The frustrating thing is that nobody takes responsiblity for the asylum seeker problem. And because there is no official system, the police and immigration are working outside of the law according to their own discretion.

And I will have half as many students in my basic English class tomorrow!

No comments: