Most of the refugees come from war-torn countries in South Asia and Africa, extremely traumatized by their experiences. So they are desperately in need of help.
Christian Action relies on donations for their work. As much as Bernal wants to help all the refugees and asylum-seekers, she admits they are restricted by the lack of resources.
“We don’t have problems getting clients,” says Bernal, “we have problems helping them with very, very limited resources.”
In most countries, the government usually oversees the processing of refugees and their welfare. But in Hong Kong the UNHCR is in charge of the majority of work, from RSD to providing assistance.
“As the Hong Kong government has not ratified the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, we have to do RSD ourselves.” says Lum Kwok-choi, the spokesman from the Hong Kong Sub-Office of the UNHCR.
The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees sets out the rights of individuals who are granted asylum and the responsibilities of nations that grant asylum.
Mabel Au Mei-bo, director of Amnesty International Hong Kong, says that as Hong Kong has not signed the convention, the government has an excuse for not taking better care of refugees and asylum seekers.
What makes matters worse is that refugees and asylum seekers in Hong Kong are not allowed to work and adult refugees and asylum seekers are not allowed to study. The government enacted a policy in 2009 stating that refugees and asylum seekers who work would be fined, as would their employers.
The inability to work has proved to be the hardest part for many refugees in Hong Kong. “What we need the most is not money, we want to work or go to school,” says Adam, “We want to do something in life.
Gordon Mathews, professor of anthropology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, who has done research on refugees living in Chungking Mansions, also thinks this is aggravating their hardship.
“They are legally not allowed to work and they could be here for six to seven years. They are in their 20s to 30s, they are in the peak of years of their life, but they are not able to do anything at all.” he says.
Still, Mathews acknowledges that this issue is a dilemma as the number of asylum seekers coming to Hong Kong would increase if they were allowed to work.