To mark World Refugee Day, we shine a light on the independent, multimedia art project ‘We Are Here’, which seeks to raise awareness of the 11,000 individuals who have fled persecution in their home countries to find refuge in Hong Kong. Former video producer and founder of the project, Polly McGovern, tells us all about it.
Over the last six months, artist Katherine Sparrow and I have immersed ourselves in the refugee community, meeting with various organisations and uncovering the true situation of asylum seekers in Hong Kong.
On June 16, we officially launched We Are Here, an ongoing independent art project which aims to raise awareness for asylum seekers in Hong Kong through painting, photography and video. We’ve been lucky enough to be supported by the ESF Kowloon Learning Campus who have involved their students in the project, and by local companies such as The Hive Studios and Casa.
Now, we want to share with you what we have learnt over the last few months.
Firstly, the refugee community is welcoming and in dire need of support. There are approximately 11,000 asylum seekers in Hong Kong, many of whom wait for years to have their cases processed by the Government. During this time, they are not allowed to work and have to survive off basic government subsidies.
Secondly, they come from all over the world including African and South Asian countries but also Egypt, Iraq, and even Russia. The reasons why they end up in Hong Kong are complicated and varied, but the fact remains that they are here and need your help.
Thirdly, refugees are often educated people. They are doctors, lawyers, teachers, and nurses and have a lot to offer a society should they be given the opportunity.
Last but not least, they are human beings. When you look at a refugee, you are seeing someone who has had to leave everything behind – their families, friends, livelihoods, and careers. When you speak to a refugee, you are speaking to someone who has had to overcome immense difficulties, many of which you will never have to face.
Time and time again, we have been overwhelmed by the stories of tragedy and sorrow, of strength and empowerment, of war and terror.
For the purposes of the We Are Here project, we selected a diversity of participants who wanted to share their stories. They represent a variety nationalities, genders, ages, and backgrounds. Katherine has made a painting for each of the participants in the project, based on their cultural identities. I have then taken a photograph of the participant with their painting and made short videos about their lives.
Through the project, we hope to raise awareness for the refugee community in Hong Kong. We want to show that they exist, that they need help and public support, and that they should be given the right to work.
The life of a refugee in Hong Kong is a difficult one, and they get by on very little, often going for years, and sometimes even decades, not knowing what their fate will be. The Government should be encouraged to change legislation so that processing times will be shorter for refugees.
Want to get involved? The following organisations all do great work with refugees in Hong Kong and are in need of volunteers and donations. Christian Action runs a daily soup kitchen in Chungking Mansions, both Vision First and Refugee Union run courses in Sai Ying Pun, and the Justice Centre gives legal support to those in need. Everyone can do more to support refugees in Hong Kong. All it takes is time and the inclination to do so.
Read more! Find out The Shocking Truth About Hong Kong’s Refugees.