TO BE FREE

 
Photo is used for illustration purpose only.

Photo is used for illustration purpose only.

James* has been in Hong Kong since 2001, he fled his country due to religious persecution from his conversion to Christianity.

For two years, his application for a refugee status has been an ongoing process of repeating the appeal. As a result of this, he suffers from chronic headaches, sleepless nights and he constantly worries for his children.

James married his Filipino wife in 2003. His first child was born in the Philippines while the other three were born in Hong Kong. All his children have birth certificates but they neither have passports nor ID cards. James was told that if a passport registration needed to be lodged, he would need to take it to the Pakistan Consulate.

In 2010, he attempted to apply for a passport for his first daughter but was met with many trials. Since it was so difficult, he lost the will to return with his other children’s application.

Although International Social Service (ISS) provides HK$1500 rental assistance per adult, it is hardly sufficient for a family of six. James could only afford a two bedroom apartment which does not offer enough space or privacy for his family - his son is turning 16 and his children do not have room to study in private.

He also feels a pressing concern from his son’s education. While his daughters go to a neighbourhood school, his son has to report to one that is far away from home.

As his children grow older, they started to question their father’s situation. His son’s classmates would casually ask about his father’s profession and to that, the son would reply that his father runs his own business, in attempt to hide their situation in Hong Kong. Sometimes when his classmates buy snacks, his son would not have the means to take part in the social activity.

James’ son is a talented player in football and basketball. However, the few opportunities that the school offered for a friendly exchange in China, he would not be able to participate. He was unable to go since he does not own a passport, therefore, when his classmates inquired, his son had to suggest that it was due to James' disapproval towards the exchange.

Many times, James' son would ask why they had to live like prisoners in Hong Kong and why his father is not allowed to work.

Sometimes during holidays, the children would want to go out for a nice meal but James will try to tame the request by promising his children that their mother would cook whatever they wanted for them. His daughters would also ask why they cannot live in a bigger home.

He keeps secrets from his children because he does not want them to feel ashamed in public or at school. He will try to reassure them that he will have his visa one day in which he will be able to start working.

Although his son understood his father’s flee from religious persecution, he would still despair in the thought that there is no way to be free in his family’s situation. He dreams of having the luxury of affording nice food like KFC or even new clothes.

James wants to treat his family out for a nice meal from time to time but due to the reality of their financial situation, it would be a big expense for a big family and that would take away many essentials from their budget.

Due to limited assistance, he does not spend on himself to save up for his children’s needs in education, transportation as well as their regular visits to immigration etc.

Till this day, James has been waiting for his application to be approved.

*Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals