To most people in Hong Kong, the MTR is an open, accessible and inclusive public sphere. Its affordable price and convenience made it the most significant public transportation in the city. However, financial shackles and social hostility on the MTR has shut the refugees in Hong Kong out of the major mode of transportation, restraining them from long distance travel.
“I need to send and pick up my kids everyday from school. Besides that, I can’t travel to anywhere else because I don’t have the money.” Abrahim, a refugee from Togo living in Hong Kong for 19 years, told Shroffed.
Until 2015, the government would allocate no more than 100 HKD per month for refugee transportation subsidies. Although that number is now 200 HKD per month, the refugees all agreed that the amount is still far too low in order to use transport as it is intended. Not only do refugees already pay high fares because many of them live around the refugee center near the last stops on the West Rail Line, but the long and mandatory weekly visits to the International Social Service in Wan Chai or Mong Kok account for a significant fraction of those 200 HKD. Additionally, the Refugee Union is located in Sai Ying Pun, where many refugees go to learn English and establish a community. Unfortunately, even a daily trip to this area of Hong Kong requires a strict budget when traveling from some of the stations further away on the West Rail Line.
In addition to the inadequate government support in reducing transportation costs, refugees are disturbed by the remote settlement in Tuen Mun area that segregates this large community from the city center, which they are required to report to. This has made them more vulnerable to unfavourable pricing condition. The distance only makes the MTR trips to the Refugee Union, ISS and work more expensive, meaning that the 200 HKD gets used up faster. As a result, the trips become longer and slower when refugees have to resort to going by bus or foot.
“We choose to take the bus instead most of the time because the MTR is more expensive and restricted,” Shiya, a married Vietnamese refugee and mother of two daughters told Shroffed. “Also sometimes taking the bus is more comfortable because there are more seats and people won’t pay extra attention to you because you’re different.”
Due to the limited media coverage of refugees, misunderstandings between locals and refugees lead to social issues when these two groups share the same carriage. West Rail Line is always crowded and it is hard to find a seat. The issue is further amplified by the long travelling time of the Line: most passengers board at Tuen Mun and will not get off until Mei Foo or Nam Cheong for transit (31 minutes ride). Furthermore, refugees report that they’re avoided and are never offered seats by locals or passengers in general. It can be seen, that in the scarce light of resources, the limited understanding on refugees create group stereotypes and adds further hostility to the coexistence.
“People give you that look, you know,” Abrahim said, “because you look different, you have different skin color from the others, they look at you like some kind of freak. Not to mention giving you a seat.”
The MTR is inaccessible to refugees because of the costly fares, as well as the social implications. However, such inaccessibility by refugees is solvable. The decision of minimal welfare from the Government and the fear of police harassment indicate the intention to exclude refugees from our society, despite them sharing the same neighbourhood with us. The exclusion is further highlighted by the limited understanding on the topic of refugees. The locals see them as competitors for resources, i.e. seats at the carriage. This further alienates refugees from using the Line.
When we look at refugees’ inaccessibility to the MTR, we discover the partiality in transportation policy laid out by the Government, which simultaneously unveils the Governments’ active exclusion of refugees: an exclusion that minimises social exposure of refugees, and increases hostility between refugees and the society.
Copy Editor: Emil
Content Mannager: Aegean