Posted on July 16, 2008

Racism Now a Crime in Hong Kong

Philippine Daily Inquirer (Makati City), July 12, 2008

AFTER more than a decade of debate, a controversial anti-racism bill has been unanimously approved by legislators in Hong Kong.

This could be good news for non-Chinese Hong Kongers like the Arcilla family.

Originally from the Philippines, the Arcillas have called Hong Kong home for more than two decades.

All of the four Arcilla children were educated in the city after the family’s move, and both parents speak fluent English and some Cantonese, hold steady jobs and pay taxes.

Yet they face racism on a daily basis.

Father Ray Arcilla, 54, said he has been called “stupid and “brainless” in the course of his work as an engineer, simply because of the colour of his skin.

His 26-year-old daughter Tesa said she has met Hong Kongers who assume she is either a maid or a prostitute because she is a Filipina.

Under the new anti-racism legislation, the discrimination faced by the Arcillas could now be illegal.

The new law aims to guarantee racial equality by criminalizing “discrimination, harassment and vilification on the ground of race”.

Even so, some rights groups like Unison, which represents ethnic minorities, criticize the bill for not going far enough to protect minority rights.

Fermi Wong, the director of Unison, said it was “ridiculous” that government agencies, including the police, are exempted from the law.

But secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs Stephen Lam said it was not feasible to include all government departments in the bill.

Doing so could result in “an influx of litigation and complaints which are unreasonable and unnecessary . . . and would hamper efficient administration”, he said.

Ethnic minority groups, who make up five per cent of Hong Kong’s seven million population, have long complained of discrimination from the majority-Chinese population, especially towards the darker-skinned South Asians.

There are hundreds of thousands of ethnic Indians, Filipinos, Nepalese and members of other South Asian groups living in Hong Kong.

Many often complain they are paid less than Hong Kong Chinese for the same jobs or are made to work longer hours.

Some have also reported unfair treatment from hospitals and government departments, and difficulty in getting places for their children in public schools because of poor Chinese-language skills.

A separate row over a controversial clause exempting language discrimination divided lawmakers and nearly torpedoed the bill.

Under the original clause, government agencies and hospitals would be required to provide services in languages other than Chinese.

Margaret Ng, who chairs the Legislative Council’s bills committee and is a long-time champion of an anti-discrimination law, slammed the government for its ‘mono-language existence’.

In a Legislative Council meeting on Wednesday night, she told fellow lawmakers: “I stand before this council and the eyes of the world bowed down with shame and disappointment. I am deeply ashamed of our government.”

Unison’s Wong said the problem was that the government did not see minorities as a politically significant constituency.

“There is not a single non-Chinese legislator representing their interests,” she noted.

In March, Wong and other equal rights campaigners headed to Geneva to express their concerns to the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

She intends to return next month to put pressure on the Hong Kong government to amend the anti-racial discrimination bill.

But some members of minority races—the very people the bill sets out to protect—are apathetic about the law and its clauses and exemptions.

Arcilla echoed the thoughts of others when he said there is only so much a law can do.

“The rest is up to education.” Caryn Yeo, The Straits Times-ANN