(This article was published by the Asian Human Rights Commission as a External Contribution on 2nd March, 2012)
Racial discrimination is alive and well and living in Hong Kong, thank you very much. Although westerners might find this hard to believe, ask any Filipino, Thai, Indonesian or any other member of a minority group. Any one of these people will tell you the real situation. The Race Discrimination Ordinance comes under the auspices of the Equal Opportunities Commission and has, supposedly, been in effect since 2009 but there is ample evidence to show that no one really cares.
In all honesty I can't say that racial discrimination was any worse prior to the RDO coming into effect but the point is that despite the ordinance, it is certainly not any better.
Every single person living in the Hong Kong SAR is entitled to equal treatment under the law. However, when dealing with government officers this is not always true. This of course, does not apply to every government officer but sadly, the one or two that believe they are superior beings casts a shadow over their colleagues. If you have ever stood behind a Filipino or another minority individual in an immigration queue and listened, not only to the questions but the tone in which they delivered, this is quite evident. The question is: why is it necessary to treat people in this manner? Is it because of an inferiority complex? Were they treated in a similar manner at some time in the past?
The erstwhile officers at the Immigration Department will be pleased to know that they are not alone in their attitude towards the minorities. Recently a young Filipino lady went to a bank to inquire as to what she needed to open an account. She was told quite clearly that all she needed was her identity card and proof of address. Accordingly, the following day she returned to the bank with the necessary documents and listened to the staff member, who was actually the Assistant Personal Account Manager, enter into a conversation with one of her colleagues. They asked the Filipino lady what her job was and received the answer that she worked for a marketing company. How was that possible they wanted to know? She was a Filipino, weren't all Filipino women domestic workers? They demanded a contract to prove that she wasn't a domestic worker. Fortunately the young lady was not subdued by this appalling display of racism and told them she would take her business, and her money, to another bank.
Upon hearing of this incident I made a phone call the bank concerned and when I explained the reason for the call I was put on hold, and left there.
So, yes, racial discrimination is alive and well and living in Hong Kong, thank you very much. The list can go on as long as the reader wishes but to be fair I will only mention a few examples.
Another Filipino went to a bank in order to seek information for a credit card application to which she was entitled due to her salary and immigration status in the SAR. Upon entering the bank she approached the reception counter at which there were two female staff members deep in conversation. When the lady concerned explained to the receptionists that she wanted to apply for a credit card, without pausing in their conversation one of them handed her an information leaflet. When the lady asked specifically for the requirements one of the receptionists waved at the leaflet and said, "Call number, la".
Interestingly a few weeks earlier I had gone to the same branch and made the same enquiry. I was taken into a private office by one of the staff who filled out the relevant form on my behalf and handed it to me for my signature. Thank you very much. Why couldn't they have done this for the Filipino lady? Was it (gasp, shock, horror) due to racial discrimination?
The ordinance is quite clear on this matter as seen in Section 1 which reads:
In any circumstances relevant for the purposes of any provision of this Ordinance, a person ("the discriminator") discriminates against another person if --
(a) on the ground of the race of that other person, the discriminator treats that other person less favourably than the discriminator treats or would treat other persons; or
(b) the discriminator applies to that other person a requirement or condition which the discriminator applies or would apply equally to persons not of the same racial group as that other person but --
Some years ago there was an interesting article in the South China Morning Post about a Pakistani resident of Hong Kong who had been refused a lease time and time again because of his nationality. He was told quite openly by the landlords that they did not want to rent their property to anyone other than a Chinese or a foreigner. Fortunately for this gentleman he was light skinned so he 'developed' an Italian accent, posed as a resident of Rome and was able to rent an apartment. It was only after he signed the lease that he went to the newspaper who published his story.
Yet another visitor to Hong Kong went to open a savings account at one of Hong Kong's premier banks only to be told that he needed proof of an employment contract. This has never been a requirement for opening a saving account and inquiries with half a dozen banks has revealed that one only needs proof of identity and proof of residence. In fact, when opening an account a few years ago I was only asked for my ID card. Of course I had to fill in my address details but at no time was I asked for proof. But then, I have a white face.
The SAR government has created this ordinance. Does it, I wonder, enforce it? What is needed here it two things: the first is for the government to inform the general public that this ordinance is in force and that it is prepared to enforce it. And the second thing is for the people of Hong Kong to realise that it is the minorities that provide the vast majority of domestic labour in the territory. You know, the ladies that they send out in the freezing rain to wash their cars, the young ladies that cater to their children when they go to school so that they can go to work and take their leisure, the young ladies that cook their meals and wash their clothes. This list also includes the members of the minority groups that have immigration status in the SAR due to marriage or other reasons, the ones that are entitled to bank accounts and credit cards and to be treated like people and not third class citizens.
For further information on the Race Discrimination Ordinance please see:http://www.eoc.org.hk/eoc/graphicsfolder/showcontent.aspx?content=ordinance
Stewart Sloan is the author of three novels and a collection of anecdotes about the Royal Hong Kong Police force whom he served as a Confidential Assistant for 11 years. He currently writes articles and satire on various human rights issues in several Asian countries. More of his work may be found at: http://sloanbooks.blogspot.com