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Photo by Billy Kwok

Refugees, Hong Kong, and health: Story of a refugee from Somalia

With the risk of being murdered in their own countries, some refugees have no choice but leave their countries and seek the right for survival. Hong Kong is also one of the destinations for refugees to keep themselves alive.

With the past sufferings (e.g. threats or tortures of life), many refugees require medical services to maintain their health. In view of the barriers (e.g. language, culture) faced by refugees during the patient journey, Health In Action (HIA) provides medical escort services to refugees. HIA acts as the bridge between the public health system and patients in need. We ease the anxiety of patients in an unfamiliar foreign health care system through outreach services. We also communicate with frontline hospital staff to break down barriers faced by refugees.

“Please treat refugees as human beings, they have families like you. Please try to understand why they come to Hong Kong.” Yuri (pseudonym) said. Yuri (28 years old) came from Somalia and became a refugee in Hong Kong eight years ago with the life threat from civil war in Somalia.

Before Yuri left his own country, he saw his elder brother being murdered by terrorists and had no choice but to bury his brother with his own hands. Unfortunately, he was kidnapped after witnessing the death of his brother and was tortured for nine months. Sometimes he was not able to have food for long times and sometimes he was hit using the gun grip. These sufferings did not only leave him with scars on his forehead but also psychological trauma which led to frequent nightmares. The scene of his brother being killed always popped out at night, and unfortunately the story did not end after being kidnapped. As Yuri was a fluent Arabic speaker, he was asked by the terrorists to join their troop. “You must work with us, if you don’t work with us we will kill you,” these were the only words from the troop. Under this dilemma, Yuri had no choice but to leave Somalia and finally ended up in Hong Kong.

After arrival, hardship from the past resulted in long term depression for Yuri. The feeling of being tailed, monitored and even possibly being murdered never left Yuri. He kept staying in a dark and small unit with poor air circulation for days with the fear of being murdered. All the symptoms of psychosomatic disorders lead to strong needs to access local medical services.

Yuri is not the only case we assist. Much humanitarian assistance on medical services is still needed to maintaining the basic health of refugees in Hong Kong. To ensure that refugees in need are able to access to basic health care, frontline workers and volunteers of HIA provide outreach medical escort services to refugees. This includes booking of clinics, escorting to relevant departments of hospitals, simple translation and guidance on medication. We hope to bridge the gap between patients and the health system to ensure that vulnerable groups can exercise their right to access basic medical services.

Photo by Billy Kwok

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