Society

Hong Kong ethnic minority face racial discrimination when seeking for housing

Malik Omar Zaman, a Pakistani who moved to Hong Kong 6 years ago, has been rejected more than 35 times when seeking a house in Hong Kong. He looked at about 50 apartments before he finally got to rent the current one. 

"We found a nice apartment and the agent told us the landlord is not willing to give it to you," said Mr Zaman.

Family photo of Zaman back in his home in Pakistan.

Mr Zaman lives in a 350 square meter apartment in Yuen Long, one of the less expensive districts in Hong Kong, with his wife and two daughters. 

Mr Zaman is among the 90% of ethnic minorities in Hong Kong who face racial discrimination when looking for a home, according to a survey  by two local NGOs, Hong Kong Unison and Hong Kong Ministry Refugee Group in late 2018. And though Hong Kong’s discrimination law makes this illegal, there is little recourse for rejected tenants who are often forced into illegal sub-divided flats and other substandard housing.

There are a total of 583,383 ethnic minorities residing in Hong Kong, constituting 8% of the whole population. This includes Filipinos, Indonesia, Indians, Pakistanis, Nepalese, Bangladeshis, and Sri-Lankans, according to the 2016 population By-census Thematic Report.

Many of the ethnic minorities live in Tsim Sha Tsui, Yuen Long, Sham Shui Po, Tin Shui Wai, and Tuen Mun - where living costs are relatively low and around 40% of them live in a subdivided flat, according to the survey

According to local ethnic rights advocacy groups, preconception about ethnic minorities and no legal charge for a rejection of tenants based on nationality are reasons for landlords not to lease apartments to ethnic minorities.

The race discrimination ordinance in Hong Kong states that in any circumstances if on the ground of the race of that other person, a person treats that other person less favourably than the discriminator treats or would treat other persons, the person may consider as discriminates against another person.

However, 50% of the respondents say they had never heard of the Race Discrimination Ordinance, according to the survey.

Mr Zaman contacted many agents and landlords. He also tried to search websites and social media.

"Most of the time, the agent clearly told us that the landlord is not willing to give apartments to ethnic minorities," said Mr Zaman.

Zaman and his wife visited Inspiration Lake, Disneyland, Hong Kong.

In many cases, he never had a chance to ask the agent what was the reason behind the rejection. 

Ashma Bibi, 23, majoring in Education at The Education University Hong Kong, moved to Hong Kong in 2003. She said that her sister was also rejected by the agent several times without giving a reason. 

The Zubin Foundation, an NGO that seeks opportunities for ethnic minorities, said Hong Kong people often have a negative impression of ethnic minorities. 

"Some locals have stereotypes about ethnic minorities, thinking they are having parties every night, they will be very noisy, and they always cook smelly food. So, all this is sort of comments they [landlords] have been receiving over the past years," said Sandy Chan, a project director at the Zubin foundation, pointing out that this is based on the first impression they got through the telephone survey. 

Mr Zaman said some of the landlords demanded to see his employment record and tax information, but they would still say "no" after that. 

Hong Kong Unison, a charity for ethnic minorities, says that stories like Mr Zaman's are common in Hong Kong. 

"People in Hong Kong may be reading from news about the negative portrayal and negative stereotypes of ethnic minorities without really understanding them and knowing them. So they have already pre-determined that "Oh I don't want to rent to them, those people with colours". All because of the stereotypes that they have in their minds," said Phyllis Cheung, executive director of Hong Kong Unison.

Giovanna Harveen Hunsrao, 20, studying Psychology at the University of Amsterdam said that there was a stereotype about ethnic minorities that they are poor and do not have sustainable income, and they are not from Chinese descent. 

"If there is a Chinese family and ethnic minority family. They have the same profile, the landlord would tend to offer the apartment to the family with the same background," said Ms Hunsrao. 

The Estate Agents Authority said they have tried to educate estate agents and set guidelines to comply with the Racial Discrimination Ordinance. But Hong Kong Unison says the agents often ignore the guidelines. 

"We have seen some agents very outraged and say, 'We don't rent to Pakistanese, go away!' Very outraged." said Ms Cheung. 

She continued, "because they don't want to rent to someone from that ethnicity, and sure enough, the person does not hold a Hong Kong SAR passport. And they use this excuse because they won't fall under the law and they know it." 

Hong Kong Unision also mentioned that a lot of times ethnic minority do not have enough evidence and from the EOC point of view the complainer has to provide the evidence of racial discrimination, and this is actually a gap in the law. 

At present, there are no protective measures to prevent nationality discrimination. Some landlords will ask "what is your nationality" instead of tenant's race, to avoid racial discrimination charges.

Hong Kong Unison is going to publish a booklet targeted at ethnic minorities so that they can know more about their rights. 

Although Malik had a tough time finding an apartment, his experience of living in Hong Kong has generally been positive. 

"Generally I don't see any difficulties regarding racism in Hong Kong." said Mr Zaman. 

According to the survey, only 22% had sought help from the Equal Opportunities Commission or the Estate Agents Authority. 

The Zubin Foundation wants the government itself to set an example

Ms Chan said, "The government should hire ethnic minorities more, have them in public services, so that people can see ethnic minorities faces, and also have them more on promotional materials, to set a scene or set an example of an international city with different colours of faces."

《The Young Reporter》

The Young Reporter (TYR) is an English news publication produced by international journalism students at Hong Kong Baptist University. It started as a printed magazine in 1969. Today, TYR is produced across different platforms.

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