POLLY MCGOVERN

HK Magazine - - CULTURE -

“We Are Here” is an in­de­pen­dent mul­ti­me­dia art project founded by for­mer TV pro­ducer Polly McGovern and ESL teacher and art in­struc­tor Kather­ine Spar­row. They’re seek­ing to raise aware­ness for the refugee com­mu­nity in Hong Kong through paint­ings, pho­tos, videos and other art­work. Jes­sica Wei spoke with about the plight of the city’s refugees. HK: What in­spired you to take on this project?

Polly McGovern: We set up “We Are Here” to raise aware­ness about some of the dif­fi­cul­ties faced by refugees in Hong Kong and to coun­ter­act the of­ten neg­a­tive me­dia re­ports re­gard­ing this is­sue in the lo­cal me­dia. Whilst Hong Kong is a safe city for refugees, it is cer­tainly not a wel­com­ing city. There is a lot of racism and many res­i­dents are un­aware of why refugees have come to Hong Kong. We want peo­ple to re­al­ize that refugees are of­ten ed­u­cated, pro­fes­sional peo­ple whose lives are at risk. They can of­fer a lot to a com­mu­nity.

HK: How does this art project work?

PM: Kather­ine has made a paint­ing for each of the par­tic­i­pants in the project, based on their cul­tural iden­ti­ties. I have then taken a pho­to­graph of the par­tic­i­pant with their paint­ing and made short videos about their lives. On our launch night [on June 16], one of the par­tic­i­pants will also be ex­hibit­ing some of his art­work and also per­form African drum­ming and singing.

HK: What’s the sta­tus of the refugee com­mu­nity in

Hong Kong?

PM: There are ap­prox­i­mately 11,000 peo­ple seek­ing pro­tec­tion in Hong Kong. Less than 150 asy­lum seek­ers have been granted refugee sta­tus; most are forced to wait for years for their cases to be pro­cessed. Dur­ing this pe­riod, the govern­ment pays $1,500 per month di­rectly to a land­lord for ac­com­mo­da­tion and also pro­vides $1,200 in food coupons. They are not granted the right to work and strug­gle to sur­vive. They are also not able to leave Hong Kong un­til their case has been deter­mined. The life of a refugee in Hong Kong is a dif­fi­cult one. They get by on very lit­tle and go for years and some­times decades not know­ing what their fate will be. It is a life in limbo.

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