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Christian Action to lose home for 31 years

17 April 2017

By Vir B. Lumicao 

What used to be a Vietnamese refugee center in the 1980s came alive with dances, drums and music on Mar 12 as hundreds of migrant workers converged at the New Horizon Building compound to celebrate International Women’s Day.

But unknown to many who were there, the first such big event for foreign domestic workers for a long while was to be the last in that spacious, British era venue.

Worried officers of the host Christian Action, which has used the Kowloon Bay property as its headquarters and service centre for the past 31 years, told The SUN in an interview the charitable group would be moving out “very soon”.

Christian Action moved into New Horizon in 1987 to provide basic services to the several hundred Vietnamese boatpeople who were cooped in the compound as their applications for asylum in a third country were being processed.

The NGO has been leasing the venue for the past 31 years from the government for a token fee of $1. But on Jan 14 the government informed the charity group that it needed the site as part of a development plan for Kowloon East involving public housing.

Victoria Wong, CA’s assistant corporate communications manager, said moving the headquarters out of the compound would impact the operations and services the group provides migrant maids, ethnic minorities, unemployed adults and underprivileged youth.

“We have been very fortunate to have leased this venue from the government. We also wonder what will happen to the operations of the centers if this is discontinued, this is what we are worried about at the moment,” Wong said. Having the event at New Horizon in a way draws people’s attention to the social service role of Christian Action, she added.

Justin Murghai, manager of humanitarian services, said the event on March 12 was an extension of CA’s quarterly outreach to various migrant communities where “we inform them of their rights, and about the general situation in Hong Kong”.

“This is the first time we’re doing a program of this scale so we are expecting about 500 migrant workers today. Now we are doing a program for people of all nationalities.”

Murghai said the event aimed to appreciate and recognize the vital role of migrant domestic workers and their contributions to Hong Kong society. It was also intended to promote their rights and protection from risk of exploitation.

Migrant helpers got to show their artistic capabilities through “Women at Work,” a photography exhibition, and “Migrant Workers Talent Show” competition.

“We have a comprehensive support system for migrants workers who may be victims of exploitation, who have some labor claims and those kind of things, maybe facing abuse or some sort of trafficking,” Murghai said.

A troubled worker first goes to the paralegal office where she is assessed if she needed a home to go. “If not, we’ll provide you shelter… you may be here for a year, do you want to get connected to educational opportunities, do you need mental health support, so everything is activated from this one point of contact.”

He said Christian Action works closely with various government agencies Immigration and Labour to support migrant workers.

The NGO has two shelters with a total of 24 beds where some people stay for over a year if they have court cases. Murghai said around 70% of the shelter clients were Indonesians followed by Sri Lankans, and the rest, Filipinos.

“At the moment there are two or three Filipinos in our shelters,” he said. The Centers for Migrant Workers are in Tok Wa Wan and Ngau Tau Kok, “but we’re moving to Jordan very soon,” said Murghai.

The NGO offers free language classes – English, Mandarin, Cantonese, and Korean could start soon as well. The English class is based on the Cambridge model.

“We have recently started collaborating with Minorities Centre. Christian action is one of the services where they provide classes from five government channels and migrant workers are welcome to join these classes,” Murghai said.

The NGO also runs a computer class that is based on the Microsoft model. Murghai said Microsoft funded the development of the program that is sufficient to prepare one who goes through the whole program to work in an office setting.

The group also has interspaced classes for more vocational training that is helpful to domestic work in Hong Kong, such as cooking skills and other household chores.

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