10 August 2011

Right of Abode: Recognizing and Reconciling Each Other

I am amazed sometimes at the all of the problems that arise from people denying the humanity of others. They stop seeing human faces and instead see stereotypes and one-dimensional caricatures. The riots currently going on in London, for example, seem to come from the root problem of people denying others a place in the community and not seeing their worth.

In my own hometown for the past year there has been an on-going debate about a large mosque being built on a plot of land--purchased legally, permits obtained legally, everything by the book--because some members of the community are misinformed (or uninformed). The atmosphere of fear and hate clouds judgement and permeates the community, polluting sound minds against their fellow humans. Citizens are being denied the right to worship in a space large enough to accommodate their growing numbers because of fear and the inability to see fellow citizens as human beings.

And the same is happening here in Hong Kong. Workers who have come here legally--who are, in large part, educated professionals who find better employment as domestic helpers here in Hong Kong than in their chosen profession in their home countries--who live here and work here and contribute to the overall economic, social, and cultural aspects of Hong Kong, are denied the right of abode.

HK Basic Law (a sort of mini-constitution) states that, "Persons not of Chinese nationality who have entered Hong Kong with valid travel documents, have ordinarily resided in Hong Kong for a continuous period of not less than seven years and have taken Hong Kong as their place of permanent residence before or after the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region" are eligible to claim permanent resident status. This means they would have the right to vote, that they are free from any condition of stay (including limit of stay), that they cannot be removed or deported from HK.

However, there is an Immigration Ordinance that was passed (in 1997, after the hand-over) that prohibits--specifically--foreign domestic workers from claiming permanent residency status. It is not right that this immigration ordinance supersedes the Basic Law, and that is what the three families who have brought the suit are claiming.

A statement of the Asian Migrants' Coordinating Body on this issue points out that "upholding this right [could not be] destructive to Hong Kong [because] a just society can only be built and really prosper when the collective rights of people enshrined in national laws such as the Basic Law and international human rights agreements are respected." The statement comes as a response to the many erroneous and exaggerated claims by politicians that should the migrants' case be upheld, the strain on Hong Kong's physical and social structures would be too great for the city to shoulder.

So where do Christians stand on such hot button issues?

As Christians we are heirs of God's Kingdom along with the Hebrew people, who were given laws to live by through Moses and the prophets. Among these is this command: "And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt" (Deuteronomy 10:19). The root of this law is: recognize yourselves in others; love others as yourself. Sound familiar?

In the Gospel of John, after Jesus washes the feet of his disciples in an act of love and service, he tells his disciples, "“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). Therefore, serving and loving others is how we are to live as Christians. 

Here at the mission, we serve migrant workers by assisting them in making claims against abusive employers or employment agencies. We serve them by recognizing their humanity and loving them as brothers and sisters in Christ. We serve them by advocating with them, by standing with them to claim their rights as human beings. No one should be treated in the ways that they are often treated. 

But let us not overlook the fact that the ones perpetrating such acts are also humans. They, too, deserve our compassion and love. Christ is in them as well. Let us do what we can to educate, to dismiss the atmosphere of fear and hate, and to reconcile ourselves to one another so that we may be reconciled together with God. 

As always, I invite your comments, thoughts, or questions. :)

Grace and Peace,

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