Limbu Saran Kumar, who oversees Nepalese affairs for the Southern Democratic Alliance, believes language lies at the root of the problems Nepalese encounter when looking for work and at work. He says most newcomers hardly know any Chinese and do not have good English either. This makes it hard for them to find jobs and adapt to life in Hong Kong.
“Nepalese children who are born in Hong Kong are able to speak well in Cantonese or even Mandarin, but they are unable to read or write in Chinese, as schools only provide Chinese lessons in junior years,” says Kumar.
Both Kuman and Kumar believe that Nepalese students would be able to enter university and get better jobs if they could get improved schooling conducted in English and Chinese. As things stand, there are only a few Nepalese primary schools in Hong Kong and children from these schools face difficulties when they go to secondary school because their written Chinese lags behind local Chinese children.
Although the government has changed its policy to allow ethnic minority children to apply for government schools, the reduction in the number of schools teaching in English and the relatively low Chinese standards of Nepalese children means they are usually left with only the poorest performing schools to choose from.
Also, most of the information about school choice and application processes are only available online and in English or Chinese. As many Nepalese parents do not have a high level of education, the information is inaccessible to them.
Apart from the problems they face in education and language, the Nepalese community is also grappling with a growing drug problem among its young people. Chris Ip Ngo-tung, a member of the Yau Tsim Mong District Council, says Nepalese youngsters have been seen using drugs in predominantly Nepalese neighbourhoods. Needles and syringes were often seen on the staircases in residential areas. “Neighbours are usually shocked to see the syringes. It creates anxiety among the Hong Kong neighbours,” says Ip.
According to the Narcotics Bureau, Nepali heroin users have currently become the largest group of ethnic minority heroin users in Hong Kong.
Deep Thapa, the chairman of the Hong Kong Nepalese Federation, says the main reason for drug use among young Nepalese are family problems, including the lack of parental care as parents are busy working and devote little time to their children. Many parents find it hard to teach their children, as they are not well educated. Other reasons include the discrimination they may encounter at school and in their daily lives.
Reports on expatriate Nepalese websites have also referred to the sudden freedom young Nepalis are exposed to when they move from a traditional and conservative society in Nepal to Hong Kong, coupled with the lack of guidance from older adults, many of whom choose to stay in Nepal.