HK's Nepalese minority - a lost generation

Updated: 2016-11-04 07:04

By Nigel Collett(HK Edition)

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There is a lost generation in Hong Kong's Nepalese community. Middle-aged and older Nepalese make a living, maybe not a good one, largely in unskilled trades, but one that gives self-respect and keeps the wolf from the door. The very young, who are just starting out on their life's education, are at last beginning to benefit from government programs giving them extra Chinese schooling to bring them closer to a par with the majority of the population. In between lies a generation born before the government recognized the danger that a lack of Cantonese and written Chinese was creating a permanent underclass, a generation that was either schooled to an inadequate standard in Hong Kong, or was sent back to Nepal to study.

The result has not been good. Young Nepalese people have returned from Nepal armed with masters degrees, even doctorates, only to find that the only options open are the hospitality, construction and security industries. Those who attempted the Hong Kong education system mostly did not find it possible to compete in Chinese languages and so remain largely unqualified.

HK's Nepalese minority - a lost generation

The very large majority of the young Nepalese men and women who are permanently residents here just get on with this and make the most of it. Those who never make the newspapers but whom we meet every day across Hong Kong now do what their parents did, which is to work for the future of their children and to put up cheerfully with their lot. Most possess the characteristics of their soldier fathers or grandfathers, who protected Hong Kong from the 1960s to the handover. Most have the toughness, good humor and strength of character to be able to cope with life here and to contribute to Hong Kong.

As always, though, there are those who do not cope. The young Nepalese men arrested on September 25 after a gang fight that led to a death in Yuen Long are the latest of these to come to light. The community has problems that need to be addressed.

Many of these young men have lost the aspiration of achieving a better life. Casual labor on construction sites leads to large incomes over the short term, money that can be spent swiftly on drink, drugs and gambling, but it leads to sudden layoffs and time spent idle between jobs.

Behind this are the fractures that appeared in Nepal's hitherto law-abiding and mutually respectful society under the strains of two decades of civil strife in Nepal. This is over now, but the crime, intimidation, violence and loss of trust that occurred then in Nepal have not gone away. Young people raised in Nepal in those decades come from a society where fear was endemic.

In Hong Kong, those problems have been accentuated by the breakup

of families. Young people are often on their own. If their parents are here they are usually working 10 - or 12 -hour shifts and unable to spend much time with their children. In many cases parents are not here at all, either having emigrated to the United Kingdom, where their older children were ineligible to follow them, or having returned to Nepal.

It is relatively easy for young people in such circumstances to drop out. That most do not is a credit to the majority of the Nepalese community in Hong Kong, but we need to face the fact that some young Nepalese men are living rough under flyovers, abusing illegal substances and alcohol, and turning for support to gangs of others like them.

There is no panacea for these problems. The cultural and linguistic canyon that divides these young people from society in Hong Kong is a wide one and will not be easily bridged. Whatever approach the government takes will inevitably be an inter-departmental one, for the police and the courts, the social and health services and the educational establishment alone cannot provide answers. It is clear, however, that this problem is not going away. It will be 30 to 40 years before the ill effects of what has been allowed to transpire in this generation fade away.

It is well worth it, then, to try to ameliorate this problem now.

(HK Edition 11/04/2016 page10)