Have you ever thought that choosing between Chinese Medium Instruction and English Medium Instruction schools can be difficult? Perhaps not for a local student, but the same cannot be said for ethnic minorities. Most parents of ethnic minority children don’t know Chinese, so if these students choose CMI, their parents may not be able to assist them with school work. On the other hand, if they choose EMI, it will be difficult for them to find employment due to their low Chinese standard. This dilemma highlights the difficulties ethnic minorities face in Hong Kong. As a city which promotes inclusion, we should assist ethnic minorities in overcoming these obstacles and enhance their social mobility. It is exactly for this reason that the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong established its Ethnic Minority Committee, the oldest existing such committee, in 2005.
Recently, the government set up a steering committee to coordinate all ethnic minority assistance work and allocated HK$500 million to strengthen support for them. In view of this, the DAB’s EMC wrote a report on how to best use this fund. As the previous chairman of the committee and current spokesman within the Legislative Council, I promptly reflected these suggestions to the Chief Secretary for Administration Matthew Cheung Kin-cheung at a meeting.
The report focuses on four areas: gaining access to public services; education; employment; and societal integration. We propose setting up a public translation service, establishing a “Chinese as second language” course and a dedicated ethnic minority employment division. We also recommend providing an employment subsidy scheme, simplifying the process for ethnic minorities to enter the mainland, and setting up a job search platform for the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and Belt and Road Initiative. Finally, we suggest allowing more ethnic minorities to join the government advisory bodies and holding more cultural exchange activities.
For public services, ethnic minorities cannot take full advantage of the benefits due to language barriers. To name an example: At hospitals, medical workers do not speak ethnic minority dialects or languages so they have great difficulty understanding the symptoms and this gives rise to the risk of misdiagnosis and subsequently incorrect medical treatment. To address the situation, an instant translation and interpretation service should be set up. This service can be in the form of a person, such as employing a non-governmental organization translator, or the authority can develop a mobile application to perform the function. The goal is to ensure ethnic minorities understand the public services available to them.
As a city which promotes inclusion, we should assist ethnic minorities in overcoming these obstacles and enhance their social mobility
For education, a lack of suitable Chinese courses for ethnic minorities leads to a low Chinese level among them. The international Chinese exams ethnic minorities take now are only equivalent to Hong Kong’s Primary 2 standard and this lowers their chances of entering university. To raise ethnic minorities’ Chinese standard, we suggest establishing a “Chinese as a second language” course for ethnic minorities that is easier than and delinked from Diploma of Secondary Education, but at the same time still practical. In other words, the course should be tailored for non-Chinese speaking students to ensure that upon completion they are capable of using Chinese at a practical level in Hong Kong.
In terms of employment, the government should set up a dedicated ethnic minority employment division with comprehensive services like job search and access to compensation for work-related injuries. The government should also provide an ethnic minority employment subsidy scheme to companies to encourage them to hire ethnic minorities and provide on-the-job training.
Both the Bay Area and Belt and Road developments are the country’s major projects, and ethnic minorities should be given a chance to participate. To facilitate this, the government should simplify the process of entering the mainland since ethnic minorities not born in Hong Kong do not hold the Home Return Permit and the process can be extremely cumbersome. In addition we encourage the officials to set up a platform to help ethnic minorities search for jobs in the related areas.
In terms of societal integration, we recommend reserving a percentage of government advisory bodies for ethnic minorities so they can give advice at the early stage of policymaking. This can guarantee that their voices are heard in each policymaking process. At last we believe it is a good idea to hold an ethnic minority summit every year to exchange views and advice with government officials and different stakeholders. The successful model of the summit on district administration can be utilized to promote communication on this front.
The actions of the government show that our society is taking note of ethnic minority issues, but we should always strive to do better.
The author is a legislative councilor for Kowloon West.