FEHD Policy Forum Series “Educating Hong Kong Refugee Children: Policy and Practice”
Organised by The Hong Kong Institute of Education (HKIEd)

Remarks by Dr York Y.N. CHOW Chairperson, Equal Opportunities Commission (只備英文版)


Professor Lee; Professor Adamson; esteemed speakers; ladies and gentlemen,

Good afternoon, and my thanks to the Hong Kong Institute of Education for your invitation to be here today. I am delighted that HKIEd has taken the initiative to provide a platform for discussing the important issue of enhancing education provision for Hong Kong’s refugee children. 

Indeed, the issue of equal education opportunities is a key concern for us at the Equal Opportunities Commission. For those of you who are not familiar with us, the EOC is the independent statutory body tasked to implement Hong Kong’s four anti-discrimination ordinances, which prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sex, marital status, pregnancy, disability, family status, and race. Our vision is to create a pluralistic and inclusive society free of discrimination where there is no barrier to equal opportunities.

At the EOC, we firmly believe that equal access to quality education is the key to a successful future. We recognise that many children in Hong Kong still struggle for equal opportunities in education because of characteristics such as their race, disability, or other factors. This is why we have named this issue a priority area of concern for us.

Recently, there has been much global media attention on the refugee crisis in Europe. Many have asked how Hong Kong, as a wealthy and developed society, can help. I think we can start by looking closer to home.

Indeed, Hong Kong has long been viewed as a city of refuge, historically providing a haven for those fleeing persecution. As a society and a member of the international community, we are obliged to protect the basic human dignity of the refugees in our city. Most refugees and asylum seekers will be in Hong Kong for many years before they are resettled in a third country. While they are here, the children should be able to develop their skills through education, so that they will be able to secure their own futures. Many adult refugees also have skills and expertise in different fields. We can, and should, learn from each other’s experience.

Yet many asylum seeker and refugee children, undoubtedly, face multiple and unique barriers to equal education opportunities here in Hong Kong. Some may face linguistic and cultural hurdles, and are unable to access support. Without adequate understanding of the system in Hong Kong, some parents may be struggling to enroll their children on school. Some refugee children were born here, but have trouble getting their birth certificate and other forms of documentation, which affects their ability to register at a school. Many face years of delay while waiting for a chance to learn. Others, given the traumatic situations that they had fled, may have psychological issues. For most, financial limitations pose a real obstacle to learning, given that refugees and asylum seekers in Hong Kong are not permitted to work. 

We are also aware that many refugee children and parents face discrimination in Hong Kong particularly due to their race, and sometimes due to other characteristics such as disability.  Some students may face bullying from their peers, while parents may feel that they are being discriminated at their child’s school or while accessing goods and services in this city. Such acts have no place in our city. 

In the EOC’s work, we have seen how discrimination and prejudice are often results of a lack of awareness. There is still a great deal of stereotyping in our city about refugees, which is fueled in part by an absence of understanding about the refugee experience.  As a society, Hong Kong must do better to enable the perspective of this marginalised group to be heard and better understood. 

Although the Government is exempted under the Race Discrimination Ordinance, we feel that it can, and should, proactively do more to ensure that refugees can live a life of dignity in Hong Kong, befitting our status as an international city committed to equality. One critical issue is the policy, procedure, and efficiency of processing the applications of the refugees and asylum seekers, to ensure that their status and destinations of abode can be determined in the shortest possible time and with respect to humanity. Procrastination and delay will create more complications and complex social issues. The children of refugees are a particularly vulnerable group, and their basic developmental and recreational rights should be respected.

Beyond this, more can be done to raise awareness about refugee issues and correct misinformation. Given that we are at HKIEd, I also want to take a moment to appeal particularly to the future educators in the audience, for you will be vital players in widening understanding and dispelling stereotypes. I want to thank you for being here to learn about this issue, which affects a particularly vulnerable group who are often not given a voice in society. You have a key role to play in spreading understanding, as you have the power, as teachers, to shape minds and create inclusive environment on campus. I hope you will remember what you will learn here, over the next few hours, when you go into your own classrooms, and think about what you can do, in your own sphere of influence, to improve the situation. Indeed, I understand that an educator is on the panel today – Dr Rizwan Ullah, who has been a frequent collaborator with the EOC and has just received the Chief Executive’s Commendation for Community Service for his contributions to advancing equal educational opportunities in Hong Kong. I am sure you will learn a great deal from his experience.

Perhaps you will have a refugee child as a student. I hope you will take the time and the effort to ensure that the child is integrated into school life and activities, including engaging parents and taking the time to understand their situation. And even if you do not have any refugee child as a student, you can play an important role in educating your students as well as your peers about the plight of refugees and enhance their social awareness and responsibility. Indeed, we need to cultivate and spread the values of diversity and inclusion in the community, and encourage all future leaders to have compassion and mutual respect for others.

Additionally, the situation must be addressed from multiple perspectives, in order to achieve a holistic response that takes into consideration the specific situation of refugees. I am heartened to see a variety of stakeholders and speakers here today – from the Government to educators to a representative from the refugee community. Undoubtedly, cross-sectoral exchange and dialogue is a key step in the right direction in resolving this issue. This should be encouraged. 

The capacity of Hong Kong, and the world, to successfully develop and flourish depends on the ability to educate all children to their fullest potential. It is also often said that ensuring equality, particularly to those who are most vulnerable, is the ultimate measure of a civilised society. 

I was educated mainly in Hong Kong. We were taught to respect people as they are and their characteristics. We are not just taught to do things to fulfill the law, but also to do things that are right, decent, fair, and just. We should not tolerate any kind of discrimination. Otherwise, our world will be full of hatred and conflicts.

Ladies and gentlemen, I hope that today’s forum will provide you with useful thoughts on how our city can better address this important issue. Thank you, and I wish you a productive day ahead.