Thursday, July 12, 2012

In the Press: Arguing, Learning, Waiting

For the past five years, Prof. Gordon Mathews has been giving classes to African and Pakistani men caught in the asylum-seeking process in Hong Kong. Has been living a tough life here, each of these "students" has his own story, being true or not. However, they have almost no chance of having their stories recognized by the authorities and gaining legal status as refugees to begin a new life. In International Herald Tribune, Prof. Mathews talks about their debates in class, and the struggles of these students :" students and I argue in class, then go our separate ways: I live my life, and they wait to live theirs."

Source: International Herald Tribune. To see the full version of the article, please click here.
These Muslim and Christian men are in their 20s and 30s, well-educated, well-informed about world affairs and highly vocal. We don’t spend much time on the rules of the English language. Instead, the classes have become discussion sessions about social and global topics.
I begin each class by asking a question. “Who is a better friend to Africa, the United States or China?” “What do you think of gay marriage?” “How do you know God is real?” My students then argue passionately with one another and with me for two hours. When class is over, they go back to being asylum seekers.

It’s a tough life. Upon entering Hong Kong and declaring to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or to the Hong Kong government that they qualify as asylum seekers under the U.N. Convention Against Torture, they are sent to a detention center for several weeks. When they’re let free, they’re given a pittance of aid — around $270 a month. They are forbidden to work, although some find illegal jobs as dishwashers, delivery men or peddlers.
The best bet for most of my students is to try to marry a Hong Kong girl, which would enable them to reside here legally. Sometimes I offer tips to the clueless, who ask questions like: “I want to meet a girl, but how?” or “I am Muslim, can I go to a bar and drink only orange juice?” or “I met a girl but she doesn’t know I’m an asylum seeker. Can you lend me some money?” Sometimes I offer small financial help.

Meanwhile, my students and I argue in class, then go our separate ways: I live my life, and they wait to live theirs.

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