Hong Kong-based photographer lifts the veil on refugees in New Territory slums

While the world trains its eyes on the overwhelming refugee crisis in Europe, many locally know little of the the hardships of asylum seekers living here in Hong Kong.

That’s something French photographer Emmanuel Serna hopes to change.

Moving to Hong Kong six years ago to join his wife, a Hong Kong native, Serna, now 42, came across an article about the refugees living in the slums of New Territories. Refugees he’d unwittingly walked among for months.

“I took them as ordinary citizens, foreigners like me,” he told Coconuts HK. “But it was far from my imagination that they are enduring miserable lives every day, stuck in those dark and filthy slums.”

Working with Vision First, an organisation that helps the refugees around the world, Serna was able to get in touch with those living a stateless existence in one of the richest territories in the world.

Despite his initial concerns, the photographer says the asylum seekers he met were more than willing to share their stories.

“I was warmly welcomed, because few people are interested in their situation and also because they have a great need to talk and be listened to,” he said.

Refugees in Hong Kong are often kept waiting for years on end, stuck between an effective zero percent acceptance rate and Hong Kong being a signatory of the Convention Against Torture that prevents refugees from moving on.

Although they receive assistance from the Government, it’s barely enough to live on, with HKD1,500 a month for rent paid directly to landlords and HKD1,200 in food vouchers that can only be spent at a single chain store.

“The government provides them with assistance but it’s still insufficient, and leaves them waiting, some for over eight years. The vast majority of [Hong Kong] citizens don’t know their existence,” said Serna.

Serna is currently seeking a venue to exhibit his photographs in an attempt to raise more awareness and funds to the plight of the refugees.

If you would like to help, contact him at contact@emmanuelserna.net

If you would like to make a donation or volunteer for the refugee cause, visit Vision First website or the Refugee Union Facebook page.

Got a tip? Send it to us at hongkong@coconuts.co.

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