In the 1950s Hong Kong became a base of international humanitarianism as NGOs opened offices in the colony to help assuage the Chinese refugee crisis. The newly formed United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) dispatched a mission to Hong Kong in 1952 – its original remit was actually to help Europeans displaced in China (see letterhead above). Other organisations were founded to help Chinese refugees who were, according to the UNHCR deputy commissioner James Read, ‘living in the most primitive circumstances … their houses are shacks and lean-tos, put together from a few pieces of wood and corrugated iron … sanitary arrangements are non-existent’. These included voluntary organisations rooted in Hong Kong’s Chinese communities, Kaifong Associations, global Christian missions and politically influenced secular NGOs, which dispensed housing, food and sanitation for Hong Kong’s growing refugee population.
For further reading on this subject, I recommend:
- Chi-kwan, Mark: ‘The Problem of People’ – Colonial discourse and the international history & politics of the Chinese refugee ‘problem’
- Peterson, Glen: ‘To be or not to be a Refugee’ – A critical account of the UNHCR’s first mission to Hong Kong, which in Peterson’s words was ‘doomed to fail’
- Ku, Agnes, ‘Immigration Policies, Discourses and the Politics of Local Belonging in Hong Kong’ – Explores the dovetailing of identity formation and immigration policy in Hong Kong in the early 1950s until 1980s
Laura Madokoro’s new book (Elusive Refuge, Chinese Migrants in the Cold War, 2016) takes a comprehensive look at white settler immigration policy towards Chinese refugees during this era – I haven’t had a chance to read it as yet but it’s certainly on my ‘to read’ list!