There used to be a time when this was still a British colony when the only Nepalis here were British Gurkhas, their families and the occasional Manang trader.
But after the law that allowed anyone born in Hong Kong before 1983 eligible for permanent residence, many children of Gurkhas have decided to live here. As conditions in Nepal deteriorate, more and more Nepalis have decided to stay on, and the number has now exceeded 50,000.
Vibrant, laissez faire Hong Kong has made many Nepalis prosperous. From newly-arrived pavement trinket sellers to established millionaire real estate developers, the Nepalis of Hong Kong now have a strong presence. There are Nepali FM stations Nepali newspapers and magazines, Nepali is taught in 16 government schools and there are six special Nepali schools. Nepalis have stood for local elections and Chinese candidates print fliers in Nepali to woo voters.
"Nepalis here are now treated like Hong Kong citizens, and we have also shown that we are a hard-working and law-abiding lot," says Ganesh Ijam of the umbrella organisation of Nepali associations here, the Hong Kong Nepali Federation.
Among the Nepalis who have done very well for themselves is ex-British Gurkha Tej Bahadur Rai who is into construction and runs a company providing security services. He is also the chairman of the Hong Kong Nepal Chamber of Commerce and has invested in a hydroelectric project back home in Nepal. Prakash Pun is also ex-Gurkha and has a similar portfolio of companies in construction and security services. Between them, Rai and Pun employing thousand or so people, are involved in building some of Hong Kong's landmark high rises and have annual turnovers of hundreds of millions of dollars. Dipak Khadka and his brother run Pacific Crown Engineering and employ 350 Filipino, Chinese and Australian staff.
Many of these entrepreneurs started from scratch in Hong Kong, and still have a soft spot for Nepalis giving them preference in jobs if they are qualified. Y B Rai came to Hong Kong 10 years ago and worked in a Chinese restaurant. Today Rai owns six franchises for Uncle Russ Coffee in prime locations in Hong Kong's business district. "It was just hard work, pure and simple," Rai tells us when asked the secret of his success.
Harimaya Gurung runs the well-known Nachghar Resturant in the Jordan neighbourhood, which brings in Nepali singers and dancers for performances. Mohan Limbu and his friends studied information technology and they run the successful HSM Computer Institute. Rajendra Shrestha runs a string of businesses and his wife Daya Magar owns a beauty parlour. Kishan Rai, who brings out the Everest Weekly, says: "The paper is for the Nepalis in Hong Kong to read about what is happening in Nepal and also to strive for unity among Nepalis here."
There are other newspapers: Sunrise weekly, Nepal Post monthly, and Namaste HK. Hello Annapurna and Asia Telecom provide radio feeds from FM stations in Nepal which can be accessed through internet and telephone. Tanka Sambahamphe and Pashan Tamu have started www.hknepal.com, a portal providing all necessary
contacts and information about Hong Kong Nepalis.
here have been several waves of Nepali migration to Hong Kong. Not all have been legitimate. But the latest is the trend for Nepalis seeking political asylum in Hong Kong claiming that they are being persecuted back home.
The Hong Kong authorities do not recognise the Nepalis as refugees, but they can apply to the UNHCR office here which, if approved, allows them to stay while their papers are being processed. If they are deemed not to be refugees, Hong Kong police deports them.
In the past, year there has been a steady rise of Nepalis claiming refugee status and the number is now estimated to be more than 600. Most are Nepalis who have paid middlemen up to Rs 550,000 for jobs in Korea or Japan but are dumped here without money, tickets or passports.
The cheated Nepalis name a certain Sarita Gurung of Hattigauda in Kathmandu as being involved in the racket. Says Sukra Raj Gurung of Lamjung, "We gave her Rs 300,000, now it's gone and we have no way of going back. So we are applying at UNHCR for refugee status." In the application, most claim they fled their villages in Nepal because of Maoist extortion or threats.
A group of illegal Nepalis in Hong Kong live in a tiny room and do odd jobs in Nepali restaurants as cooks and guards. They have to be vigilant about police raids at their workplaces. One Nepali working illegally in a restaurant in Yunlong admits he is not a refugee, "I just want to regularise my stay here, and claiming to be a Maoist victim seems to be the easiest way of doing it."
But there are some genuine Maoist victims among the illegal Nepalis here, like Raju Shrestha of Thankot. He had two houses and some property but says he left it all because the Maoists accused him of being a spy and feared for his life. "If I was sure I wouldn't be killed if I went back home, I'd go back tomorrow," Raju says.
The UNHCR office here says it can't reveal the numbers who have applied for asylum in Hong Kong. But nearly all the applicants have reportedly cited fear of Maoists, and none have said they were forced to flee because of state security. The Royal Nepali consul general in Hong Kong, Hemlal Bhatarai, says he has no official information about asylum seekers. "We know of people who have been abandoned by labour middlemen, but no one has notified us about those seeking refugee status," he adds.
Says Ganesh Ijam of the Hong Nepali Federation, "We know this is emerging as a big problem, the only way to stop it is to crack down on unscurupulous middlemen who abandon their clients here."
HONG KONG PHOTO GALLERY
Tej Bahadur Rai, CEO of the Sunkoshi
Ram Li Rai, a Nepali businessman who owns a store in Yun Long
Kishan Rai, the editor and publisher of the Nepali-language weekly, Everest
Tanka Sambahamphe and Pashan Tamu have launched a website about Nepalis in Hong Kong, www.hknepal.com
Raju Shrestha from Thankot works illegally in Hong Kong while his application for asylum is being processes by the UNHCR
Self-made restauranteur, Y B Rai, runs a string of six franchises in Hong Kong for an American coffee shop chain.
A Nepali school in Hong Kong teaches Nepali and even has non-Nepali students, like Filipina, Michelle (second from left).
Nima Gurung does brisk business on the footpaths
Prakash Pun owns the Gorkha Construction Limited