The title refugees and education speaks to one’s imagination. In practice it can be implemented in two ways: educating society on refugees and educating refugees to integrate them in society. Discussing this subject in our project group we noticed differences in the refugee situation in Hong Kong and the Netherlands. While the refugee debate in the latter revolves around the rights and secondary needs of refugees the refugee issue in Hong Kong is still struggling to make itself visible to the bigger population. For this reason we have focussed our activity in Hong Kong on educating society on refugees and our activity in the Netherlands on educating refugees.
The 11th of April we left for Hong Kong and after an interesting debate on digital identity forming and an eye opening tour through the city it was our turn to host an activity. In cooperation with photographer Emmanuel Serna, Human Rights Lawyer Patricia Ho and justice centre representative Rachel Li we organized a photo exhibition on refugee living conditions. Serna presented his photo’s made in the Hong Kong slums after which Rachel provided insight in the relationship between the refugees living in these slums and society. The refugees in Hong Kong are often intentionally forgotten because in the slums they have more living space than Hong Kong natives in their houses. Housing is a big problem in Hong Kong with big families living on a few square meters. Human rights lawyer Patricia is committed to helping the refugees in this situation. She explained to us that people with refugee status can never be naturalized and are not allowed to work. Money they receive from the government to sustain themselves is not transferred to them but to the owner of the plot they rent. Having refugee status also prohibits the refugee to leave the country. This way the refugee will never be able to make a better life for himself.
During the period in which the students from Hong Kong University visited The Netherlands, between May 29th and June the 4th , we continued our research regarding refugees. In cooperation with the B.A.K. (Basis Actuele Kunst) we organized a debate between Karin Boelhouwer (a member of the environmentalist party Groen Links), The Publisher (an organisation that created a platform for refugees to publish their art and other forms of expression) and students from the Hong Kong University and the University of Utrecht. Instead of a debate, a joint conversation arose in which the different parties were able to clarify their perspectives and add to the way we look at refugees in the Netherlands. Is the Dutch government actively forestalling the integration of refugees by creating complex and bureaucratic rules regarding asylum? How does the general Dutch public respond to the arrival of refugees with other believes and worldviews in their neighbourhoods?
The results from the conversation, combined with the knowledge gained during the week in Hong Kong, was drawn on the walls of the B.A.K. Central themes where theories about colonialism, otherness, xenophobia and education. By combining students perspectives from both Universities, we came to new insights that will hopefully accompany us for the rest of our academic and personal lives.