Proposed changes to racial discrimination law stir contention

MANY parents would take their children to parks to have some fun. But Ah-kiu (not her real name), a 43-year-old mother, is afraid to do so as she and her children have been called "locusts" with spite in a park twice.

Locust is a pejorative term that some locals use in referring to immigrants or visitors from the Mainland. In their minds, the mainlanders have encroached on Hong Kong's resources like pests.

Ah-kiu came to Hong Kong from the Mainland in 2008 to reunite with her family. On one occasion, a woman scolded her as a "locust" when Ah-kiu asked her to move aside of a slide so that her daughter could play on it. On another occasion, Ah-kiu and a friend went to a park with their children, and a man passing by mumbled: "Those locusts give birth to so many children."

The Equal Opportunities Commission, Hong Kong 's statutory body responsible for enforcing anti- discrimination laws, sees a need to combat the kind of discrimination that Ah-kiu has suffered by legislation.

In July, the commission started a consultation exercise to gauge public opinion on whether the scope of the Race Discrimination Ordinance should also outlaw discrimination on the grounds of "nationality, citizenship, residency or even though they are ethnically the same as Hong Kong people.

At the public forums held by the commission, some locals strongly opposed the proposed amendment. They were worried that people from the mainland would become "the privileged". In an article published in the Chinese language newspaper Ming Pao in October, Mr Fan Kwok-wai, a Legislative Council member who launched a pro- locals campaign called Hong Kong First, says the proposed amendment would strip the permanent residents of their priority over new immigrants, and thus cause a fierce competition for public resources between the two groups.

But Mr York Chow Yat-ngok, Chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission, has countered that including newcomers or visitors from the Mainland under the Race Discrimination Ordinance will not give them social welfare or political rights enjoyed by Hong Kong permanent residents.

In an article also published in Ming Pao, Mr Chow says amending the law would protect both groups from discrimination. Referring to media reports about Hong Kong people allegedly not getting proper service at some shops in Tsim Sha Tsui selling luxury goods, he says amending the Race Discrimination Ordinance would benefit Hong Kong people as this kind of conduct would be an infringement of the amended law.

Miss Sze Lai-shan is a social worker of the Society for Community Organisation, a human rights group promoting equality among community members. She believes the amended law would provide a legal foundation for protecting the rights of mainland immigrants.

Miss Sze's organisation conducted a survey in September of newcomers from the mainland. It found that middle-aged female immigrants with low education faced severe discrimination in both the workplace and in their daily lives. Some were rejected for a job or scolded by vegetable vendors just because of their mainland origin, according to the survey. "There is currently no legal channel to lodge complaints about those discriminatory acts," said Miss Sze. She believes that people would continue to insult the new immigrants if there was no change in the law.

She said she had also encountered hostilities when she helped mainland immigrants, like being yelled at, with people telling her to "go to hell", at public sessions about the law review.

However, Mr Lee Tsz-king, Chairman of the Liberal Party Youth Committee, does not feel it necessary for the Equal Opportunities Commission to make everyone equal. "The Chinese word for discrimination literally means to see people differently. As every individual is different, what's wrong to see everyone differently?" asked Mr Lee.

The Liberty Party has long been opposing stricter anti-discrimination legislation. It is against amending the Race Discrimination Ordinance and laws that would expand the legal definition of marriage.

Mr Lee believes that exposing the new immigrants to the mainstream society is more helpful than setting them apart or protecting them by law. "They need to learn how to deal with discrimination instead of being given privileges," he said.

 

By Au Yeung Tsui See

Edited by Steven Wang

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