- Title: Soccer team gives Hong Kong asylum-seekers chance to assimilate
- Date: 22nd May 2017
- Summary: (SOUNDBITE) (English) 24-YEAR-OLD HONG KONG SOCCER PLAYER, ERIC LEE, SAYING: "We don't mind their work and their personality, we just talk about football. It's like a family through playing football." VARIOUS OF ALL BLACK FC PLAYERS' WIVES AND GIRLFRIENDS WATCHING MATCH FROM SIDELINES ALL BLACKS FC PLAYER HELPING UP HONG KONG PLAYER (SOUNDBITE) (English) 22-YEAR-OLD HONG KONG GIRLFRIEND OF AN ALL BLACK FC SOCCER PLAYER, KARIN LAU, SAYING: "Being African with Chinese is really difficult in Hong Kong because you know in Hong Kong is so racist, you know. Like even me and him walking the street, he just holds my hand, people will stare at us."
- Embargoed: 5th June 2017 10:05
- Keywords: immigration team matches Hong Kong soccer refugees
- Location: HONG KONG, CHINA
- City: HONG KONG, CHINA
- Country: Hong Kong
- Topics: Society/Social Issues,Sport
- Reuters ID: LVA0036I241TX
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Twice a week, about 20 mostly African asylum-seekers get together in Hong Kong and train for their next friendly soccer match, played against a different local team each month.
The team All Black FC is the first of its kind in the city and offers one of the few opportunities the refugees have to integrate with locals.
It was set up a year ago by Hong Kong expatriate Medard Koya, a soccer coach from the Central African Republic, who said he noticed his refugee friends were struggling to assimilate into Hong Kong society and thought sport could serve as a common language to help bridge the gap.
"Even if you come from Africa, you come from Europe, you come from America, you know, you come from Asia.... when you go to play football, you know you can just enjoy, run together, jump together, even fall together," he said.
Team member Soloman, 26, said joining All Black FC has really improved his quality of life. "As I'm playing football I feel so excited, I feel happy," he said.
He became an asylum-seeker three years ago after receiving a phone from his father telling him it was too dangerous to come return to Gambia, his home country. He was in Hong Kong at the time to source goods for his business in Bwiam, and overstayed his tourist visa in order to apply for refuge.
Like most of the other players on the team, it is illegal for Solomon to work or volunteer in Hong Kong as his papers are still being processed.
Being in a limbo during the lengthy screening process is not uncommon in the city. Hong Kong has approved just 52 of more than 8,000 claims since 2009. There are more than 11,000 asylum seekers in the Asian financial hub, some still uncertain about their fate after waiting for more than 15 years.
Adding to that, they are never sure of their fate, as they are not allowed to resettle in Hong Kong even if their papers are approved. Hong Kong immigration instead refers them to the U.N. high commission for resettlement elsewhere.
According to human rights lawyer Robert Tibbo, who takes on many refugee cases, it is also not just an issue of paperwork.
"When you have this history of discriminating against those who are not Chinese or those who have a different skin colour or they're from a different country, obviously this has an impact on, you know, everybody in the society," he told Reuters.
On the sidelines of the latest match, the refugees' girlfriends and wives line up to watch the game.
"Hong Kong is so racist, you know. Like even me and him walking the street, he just holds my hand, people will stare at us," said Karen Lau, 22, who is dating one of the All Black FC team players.
But around the pitch the atmosphere is filled with camaraderie.
"We don't mind their work and their personality, we just talk about football. It's like a family through playing football," said Eric Lee, 24, after being helped off the pitch by All Black FC players due to an injury.
Every month, asylum-seekers in Hong Kong, one of the world's most expensive cities, receive HK$1500 ($193) to pay for their rent and HK$1200 ($154) in food coupons. They often congregate in the poorer neighborhoods where it is more affordable to live, but even there there's little for them to do to pass the time.
Koya says he hopes to get the team into a proper league in Hong Kong but, for now, the team's monthly matches are still improving the players' day-to-day lives.
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